Russia and Ukraine resumed talks in Brussels on Tuesday to end a bitter gas price dispute and build on a tentative push by Kiev's new president towards peace after months of conflict.
Ukraine's new Western-backed president Tuesday ordered the creation of humanitarian corridors in the separatist east that could save civilians and advance his plan to end nearly two months of fighting by the end of the week.
Petro Poroshenko's initiative meets a major demand put forward by Moscow and helps address growing concern among human rights groups about Kiev's use of firepower in heavily populated areas to suppress the pro-Russian insurgency.
But the 48-year-old chocolate baron and political veteran stopped short of accepting the Kremlin's request to allow Russian aid into the eastern rust belt, a move Kiev fears could be used to help arm the rebels.
Russia said the corridor decision was "welcome" but left room for concern that Poroshenko might only step up his offensive once civilians leave for safer parts of Ukraine.
"Military operations are continuing and even intensifying in a number of cases," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after meeting his German and Ukrainian counterparts in Saint Petersburg.
But German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he saw "the light at the end of the tunnel" and a "readiness from all sides to act to de-escalate the crisis".
Poroshenko has unveiled plans to end the rebellion that has killed more than 200 and shaken the foundation of the splintered ex-Soviet state.
His efforts include high-stakes negotiations to stave off a Russian gas cut that would also impact Europe and plunge economically-devastated Ukraine into even deeper recession.
Another marathon round of talks mediated by the European Union broke up in Brussels early Tuesday, and ministers returned to the EU capital later in the day after consultations with their respective governments.
News agency reports in Russia said Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak conferred with President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin to apprise him on where the laborious gas-price talks stood for now.
EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger, the broker for the talks, said an overall agreement should not be expected for days.
Russia had set a deadline for Ukraine to cover a debt Moscow puts at $4.5 billion or have its shipments end Wednesday.
© AFP 2014