Kiev: Ukraine and pro-Russian insurgents prepared to put to the test a comprehensive truce on Tuesday aimed at calming an upsurge of violence that has further eroded trust between Moscow and the West.
Local authorities today reported the deaths of at least 12 civilians over a bloody weekend in which government forces and organised militias exchanged volleys of Grad rocket fire across the devastated industrial east.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel once one of Europe's more moderate voices on Russian affairs blamed the unrest on attempts by an increasingly isolated Kremlin to halt eastern Europeans in their drive toward the EU.
Russia's violation of "the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine must not be allowed to stand," Merkel told Germany's Die Welt newspaper.
She also defended the sanctions that Brussels and Washington have slapped on Russia for its alleged attempts to splinter its western neighbour in reprisal for the February ouster of a Moscow-backed president.
Russia has struck back by banning Western food imports and imposing other restrictions that have hurt European farmers and provoked a minor rebellion from businesses in countries such as France and Germany.
The diplomatic war of words and jostling for position has intensified as the prospect of new Ukrainian peace talks nears.
"The desire to rip away from Russia has always been one of America's top foreign policy priorities," Russian Deputy Foreign Sergei Ryabkov told a session of parliament.
"But since the start of the year, this desire has surfaced with renewed strength and in an especially aggressive manner," the RIA Novosti news agency quoted Ryabkov as saying.