Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Europe today of ignoring the Ukrainian army "directly targeting" civilians in the east of the country.
The Ukrainian military "is directly targeting its fire on residential areas" and "unfortunately many countries, including in Europe, prefer not to notice that," he said from the eastern Siberian city of Yakutsk in comments broadcast on Russian television.
Putin characterised the goal of rebel operations as protecting civilians.
"The goal of the rebel forces is to push back (Ukrainian) armed forces and artillery so they cannot fire on residential areas," he said.
In recent days Putin has repeatedly called for "substantive" talks between Kiev and representatives of eastern Ukraine on resolving the crisis.
Representatives of Kiev, Moscow and the OSCE are to gather today in Minsk for a meeting of the so-called Ukraine Contact Group, but it was unclear if representatives of pro-Russian separatists would attend.
"And now, in my opinion, a very important process is starting, the process of direct talks," said Putin without providing details.
"We worked on that for a long time and agreed on that with (Ukrainian President) Petro Poroshenko ... And now these contacts are starting, that are resuming."
In an interview broadcast yesterday Putin for the first time evoked "statehood" for eastern Ukraine, but his spokesman said it was an incorrect interpretation of the comments and the status of the region must be discussed between eastern Ukrainians and Kiev as part of a political resolution of the crisis.