Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko says preparations are under way to reopen long-stalled peace talks with Russian-backed separatists in the Belarusian capital on Sunday.
The expected meeting comes as Moscow struggles to extricate itself from a devastating currency crisis that analysts say is crippling Kremlin efforts to lend further support to the ongoing rebellion in eastern Ukraine.
Separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko confirmed the new talks, telling Russia's Ria Novosti news agency the meeting in Minsk will take place. But he said an agenda had not been fully agreed upon by late Wednesday.
The talks would be conducted by the so-called "contact group," made up of representatives of the Ukrainian and Russian governments, the separatists in eastern Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
News of the latest talks circulated just hours after German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government is battling to stabilize the ruble currency by selling off $7 billion in foreign currency reserves.
Negotiators signed an earlier cease-fire in September that crumbled before it could be implemented. More than 1,300 people have died in fighting in eastern Ukraine since then, with each side accusing the other of violating the truce.
Possible window of opportunity
Separately, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, speaking Wednesday, said she and President Poroshenko "shared the impression that there might be... some more willingness to solve the conflict on the Russian side, on President Putin's side."
Mogherini's comments during a visit to Kyiv echoed those of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The U.S. diplomat told reporters Tuesday that Russia has made "constructive moves” on the Ukraine crisis that could open the way to resolving the conflict, and easing or lifting international economic sanctions.
Kerry did not elaborate on the Russian overtures. But monitors say a unilateral cease-fire declared last week by the Ukraine government has largely held.
More sanctions, lethal aid on table
The White House announced Tuesday that President Barack Obama would sign legislation passed by the U.S. Congress authorizing more sanctions on Russia for its role in the Ukraine crisis.
The bill also gives the president authority to provide $350 million in lethal and non-lethal military aid to the Ukrainian government. More than 4,700 people have been killed since the conflict began in April.
That potential aid includes anti-tank weapons, munitions and surveillance drones. It also requires the president to impose new sanctions on Russia's defense and energy sectors, if Russian firms sell or transfer military equipment to Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova or Syria.
But the legislation does not make the sanctions or military aid mandatory.
Some information for this report came from AFP and Reuters.