The German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed hope 'round table' talks between politicians and civil groups this week would help disarm pro-Russian separatists and improve the atmosphere for elections due later this month as he arrived in Kiev to discuss the escalating Ukraine crisis.
His arrival came after the separatist leader of the self-styled Peoples’ Republic of Donetsk asked President Putin to absorb Donetsk into the Russian federation after voters backed sovereignty in Sunday’s referendum.
Russia has called for the results of the ballot in Donetsk and Luhansk, where separatists leaders said 89 per cent and 96 per cent voted for independence respectively, to be “implemented”. Ukraine, the EU and the US have declared them illegal.
Mr Steinmeier met with interim Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk at Kiev airport to help broker talks between both sides before travelling on to the Black Sea city of Odessa, the site of recent deadly clashes between Ukrainian forces and rebels.
His trip is intended to begin implementing a road map for settling the crisis laid out by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
He called for a quick release of hostages and freeing of the captured government buildings currently held by pro-Russian militants in the troubled east.
"We also support your efforts to launch a national dialogue, under Ukrainian ownership, here in your country, through round tables, at the central level and in the regions," Mr Steinmeier told a joint news conference with Mr Yatsenyuk, and stressed his belief that the referendum was illegitimate.
The situation in parts of Ukraine remained "dangerous and threatening", the German minister said, adding that the priority was for as many voters as possible to take part in presidential elections on 25 May.
Mr Yatsenyuk thanked former German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger, who runs the annual Munich Security Conference, for being prepared to co-moderate the 'round table', which Kiev says may start on Wednesday.
Kiev has declined to say which groups will join the talks but acting President Oleksander Turchynov has said "terrorists" cannot take part. Moscow says the talks cannot succeed without direct dialogue between Kiev and the separatists.
On Monday, the EU imposed fresh sanctions on Russia over its support of separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Additional reporting by agencies
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