Moscow: The Kremlin renounced today the right to send troops into Ukraine and voiced support for a peace plan, but the West said Russia must do much more to stop the fighting in eastern Ukraine if it wants to avoid a new, more crippling round of sanctions.
A cease-fire, already fragile, is set to expire Friday, the same day that Ukraine signs a pivotal economic agreement with the European Union and the day that the EU and US may consider further punitive measures against Russia.
After months of upheaval, this much is clear: The West appears to accept that it can do nothing about Russia`s annexation of Crimea, while Moscow seems resigned to Ukraine signing the sweeping trade pact that will bind the country more closely to the EU.
It was the former Ukrainian president`s abrupt decision late last year to back out of the EU deal under pressure from Russia that triggered the current crisis.
But much uncertainty still surrounds the future of eastern Ukraine, where government troops are battling armed Moscow-backed separatists. The cease-fire has been repeatedly interrupted by fighting since it went into force last Friday.
At Putin`s request, the Russian parliament rescinded a resolution that had empowered him to intervene militarily in Ukraine. Putin said his request was intended to support the peace process.
US and European governments welcomed the step but said it was not enough.
"Now we believe it`s critical for President Putin to prove by his actions, not just his words, that he is indeed fully committed to peace," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said at a meeting of diplomats from NATO nations in Brussels. The same message was delivered by the German chancellor and the NATO chief.
Behind the scenes, meanwhile, the leaders of France, Germany and Ukraine spoke with Putin for more than an hour in a conference call.
The four agreed that a mechanism needs to be set up to oversee the cease-fire, German Chancellor Angela Merkel`s spokesman said. A statement issued by French President Francois Hollande said he and Merkel encouraged Putin to work with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to put such a mechanism in place.
The Kremlin said that Putin once again called for extending the cease-fire and sitting down for talks. Putin has argued that Ukraine`s demand that the rebels lay down their weapons within a week was unrealistic because they fear reprisals.