Ukraine conflict: Vladimir Putin renews blame on West

Ukraine conflict: Vladimir Putin renews blame on West

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The ruined airport at Donetsk, 7 February

Ukraine’s crisis has been caused by the West, Russian President Vladimir Putin says, as he considers Franco-German proposals to end fighting between the government and pro-Russia rebels.

Western countries had broken pledges not to expand Nato and forced countries to choose between them and Russia, Mr Putin told an Egyptian newspaper.

The comments come amid new hopes of a peace deal this Wednesday.

Russia denies accusations of sending troops and supplying the rebels.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine has claimed more than 5,300 lives and driven 1.5 million people from their homes.

At least nine Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in the past 24 hours, officials say.

Fighting is said to be intense around the town of Debaltseve, near the rebel-held city of Donetsk.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande flew to Moscow on Friday to discuss proposals to end the fighting.

The detailed proposals have not been released but the plan is thought to include a demilitarised zone of 50-70km (31-44 miles) around the current front line.

After telephone conversations with Mr Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Sunday, they announced that a four-way summit could be held in the Belarus capital, Minsk, if the details were agreed before Wednesday.

Mr Putin’s spokesman denied media speculation that Mrs Merkel had told the Russian leader that sanctions would be tightened if he did not agree a deal.

“Nobody has ever talked to the president in the tone of an ultimatum – and could not do so even if they wanted to,” Dmitry Peskov told Govorit Moskva radio on Monday.

European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels agreed more sanctions against Russian and rebel officials on Monday – but put them on hold for a week to give the peace effort a chance.

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