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Putin V Poroshenko: Russia and Ukraine's presidents to meet today

Ahead of the meeting, Kiev announced the capture of ten Russian paratroopers.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADAMIR Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko are both due to attend a key meeting in Minsk, Belarus, today, amid continuing tension between the two countries.

They will both attend the Russian-let Customs Union meeting where officials are set to discuss the crisis as well as trade following Ukraine’s signing of agreements with the EU in June.

The Kremlin did not rule out direct talks between the two leaders, though it would not confirm a bilateral meeting.

These talks are talking place against a background of high tensions.

An AFP journalist witnessed heavy fighting to the south of Donetsk, the main rebel bastion in eastern Ukraine, where separatists said they had deployed fresh tanks and artillery.

Explosions rang out and smoke rose from towns to the south of the city. Ukraine’s military said four soldiers had been killed and 31 wounded in the past 24 hours.

Ahead of the meeting, the US warned of “significant escalation” in the conflict after Kiev announced the capture of ten Russian paratroopers.

 

Her comments came after Kiev’s security service said soldiers from the 98th airborne division based in central Russia were captured near the Ukrainian village of Dzerkalne, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) southeast of the rebel hub Donetsk.

The Kremlin has ratcheted up the pressure by announcing plans to send another aid convoy into eastern Ukraine “this week”.

Russia unilaterally sent about 230 lorries carrying what it claimed was 1,800 tonnes of humanitarian aid to the rebel-held city of Lugansk on Friday after accusing Kiev of intentionally delaying the mission. Kiev condemned the move as a “direct invasion”.

Some 400,000 people have fled their homes since April in fighting that has left residents in some besieged rebel-held cities without water or power for weeks.

“We would like to agree on the conditions to send the convoy on the same route with the same participation of Ukrainian border guards and customs officers as soon as possible,” Lavrov told a news conference in Moscow.

He also played down hopes for a major breakthrough in Minsk, saying only that talks would “facilitate the exchange of opinions” about “efforts to start the political process to settle the political crisis”.

- Additional reporting by Michelle Hennessy.

Read: Ukrainian parliament dissolved on the eve of key peace talks>

More: “Time for peace” as Russian convoy returns from Ukraine>

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