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Pro-Russia fighters guard a position during a patrol near Luhansk, eastern Ukraine. / Dmitry Lovetsky, AP

Ukraine and Russia agreed Wednesday to a second cease-fire, as the Ukrainian military continued fighting insurgents in the country's eastern provinces.

Foreign ministers from those two countries plus Germany and France, meeting in Berlin, announced a plan to reopen talks by Saturday "with the goal of reaching an unconditional and mutually agreed sustainable cease-fire."

The agreement comes after five Ukrainian troops and hundreds of pro-Russian separatists were killed as government forces engaged in more than 100 clashes since late Monday night when Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ended a unilateral, 10-day cease-fire.

The four foreign ministers, in their statement, stressed "the necessity of a sustainable cease-fire, to be agreed upon swiftly."

The agreement would involve Russian cooperation with Ukrainian forces on border security, the return of key border crossings to Ukrainian control, and free access to international monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in which Russia is a member.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said after the talks in Berlin that the cease-fire should not be used to give the military time to regroup and bring in reinforcements. Both Ukraine and the separatists accused each other of using the previous cease-fire to re-arm.

Asked whether Russia has any influence over the rebels, Lavrov said that "we have possibilities to influence those who defend their families, their soil and their territory."

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt said Russian cooperation will be needed to enforce any cease-fire and stop the fighting.

"The key military terrain is the Russian border," Pyatt said, while participating in a panel discussion hosted by Ukrainian Hromadske.tv. "That's where the Berlin agreement is going to be tested."

Pyatt repeated U.S. assertions that Russia has provided fighters, tanks, anti-aircraft missile systems and other equipment to insurgents in east Ukraine. Those supplies began after Feb. 24, when former president Viktor Yanukovych fled Ukraine to Russia, Pyatt said.

"This is a manufactured insurgency supported by the Russian government against Ukraine," Pyatt said. The cease-fire agreement "is only going to work if there are two parties," Pyatt said, referring to Russia and Ukraine.

Fighting entered a new active phase this week after the cease-fire ended. Ukrainian forces on Wednesday retook three villages and a checkpoint on the Russian border, the government said.

The conflict in east Ukraine began in April, when pro-Russian insurgents seized government buildings and attacked security installations, after Russia military and irregular forces seized and then annexed Ukraine's Crimea province. Russian President Vladimir Putin was angered that Yanukovych was ousted by protesters who wanted Ukraine to work more closely with the European Union.

Andriy Lisenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's Security Council, said Wednesday that 21 Ukrainian soldiers had been wounded, and that Russia closed three border crossings to insurgents trying to flee the Ukrainian government offensive, according to the Kyiv Post.

Russia had previously allowed rebel fighters to use the crossings at Gukovo, Donetsk and Novoshakhtinsk in Rostov region, Lisenko told reporters Wednesday. But a bus carrying fighters to Russia came under fire by Russian border guards, he said.

Heavy fighting continued also near the besieged rebel-held city of Slovyansk, where rebels sought in vain to escape a military cordon, military spokesman Alexei Dmitrashkivsky told Ukrainian National News.

"Despite the fact that the terrorists are under great pressure from the Ukrainian security services, some militant groups persist in their attempts to break out of the encirclement," Dmitrashkivsky said.

The rebels succeeded in destroying a Ukrainian tank, but "all attacks were repulsed," he said.

Government forces responded with a withering onslaught of firepower that destroyed the insurgent camp, Dmitrashkivsky said.

ITAR-TASS reported that rebel forces in the Donetsk People's Republic reported shooting down a Ukrainian Su-25 ground-attack aircraft and a helicopter Wednesday. Ukraine said the pilot ejected while landing and was not injured, according to the report.

Contributing: The Associated Press



Copyright 2014USAToday

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