Ukraine's foreign minister said Thursday that a new round of peace talks on the conflict in eastern Ukraine could take place soon, as the country's prime minister and parliament urged the international community to designate the pro-Russia separatists' self-proclaimed republics as "terrorist organizations."
Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said the so-called "contact group," which includes representatives of Ukraine, the separatists and Russia, and operates under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), may meet "within the next few days."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yevgeny Perebiynis said a short time later that the Ukrainian side expected the meeting to take place before the end of the week and was waiting for representatives of the separatists' Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People's Republic (LNR) to confirm they would attend.
The "contact group" last met December 24 in Belarus' capital Minsk, where the warring sides had signed a cease-fire agreement back in early September.
Under the deal, both sides agreed to a cease-fire and the withdrawal of fighters and military hardware from the war-torn east. But international monitors say more than 1,300 of Ukraine's 4,700 war fatalities have occurred since the so-called Minsk Protocol was signed.
A meeting among French, German, Russian and Ukrainian leaders on the crisis in eastern Ukraine that was to have been held Thursday in Astana, Kazakhstan was canceled amid intensifying fighting in the region.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk asked Ukraine's justice ministry, prosecutor general's office and security service Wednesday to take measures to ensure that the DNR and LNR are recognized internationally as terrorist organizations.
Also Wednesday, Ukraine's parliament passed a resolution calling on the European Union, the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia to put the two separatist entities on their lists of terrorist groups.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is calling for a fair and independent investigation into Tuesday's shelling of a passenger bus in eastern Ukraine. The attack killed at least 12 civilians.
Lavrov said Wednesday the incident needs a thorough investigation before people start "pointing fingers" the way, he said, Ukraine and Western governments like to do.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has declared Thursday a day of mourning for the bus attack victims. He blames their deaths on pro-Russian separatists who deny the charge and in turn blame Ukrainian government forces.
The bus was hit south of the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk.
Some material for this report came from AFP and Reuters.