German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her concern to Russian President Vladimir Putin over pro-Russian separatists shooting down a Ukrainian army transport plane on Saturday, saying it made a ceasefire all the more important.
The German government said in a statement Merkel and French President Francois Hollande had spoken together by telephone with Putin following the incident, in which 49 servicemen died. "During the call, the Chancellor voiced her dismay over the shooting down of a military plane in Ukraine, during which numerous people lost their lives," government spokesman Georg Streiter said in a statement.
"This incident illustrates the urgency of a ceasefire." France's Elysee also "stressed the importance" of a ceasefire in a separate statement issued in Paris.
Pro-Russian separatists earlier shot down an army transport plane in east Ukraine, dealing a blow to a military campaign to defeat the rebels and hold the country together. Merkel also urged Russia to control its borders effectively and stop the influx of arms and combatants into Ukraine and to exert its influence over the separatists to stick to a truce. Scores have been killed in violence in Ukraine since April and over 100 protesters, most of them seeking closer ties with the West, were killed in clashes with police in Kiev which led to the fall of Ukraine's Moscow-leaning president in February.
Russia fears losing influence in Ukraine which was governed from Moscow in Soviet times and is seen by Russians as the cradle of their civilisation; but it denies being behind the uprising. The U.S. State Department said on Friday, however, that Russia had sent tanks, heavy weapons and rocket launchers to Ukraine in recent days in support of separatists.
Merkel and Hollande also expressed their hope that talks between Ukraine and Russia over gas pricing expected later on Saturday in Kiev would be successful. The talks, if successful, could avert possible supply cuts to Ukraine and interruption of onward flows to Europe - two days before a payment deadline.
(Reporting by Annika Breidthardt, additional reporting by Guz Trompiz in Paris, editing by David Evans)