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German foreign minister says de-escalation in Ukraine still far off after he meets with Putin

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BERLIN — After meeting with Russia's president, Germany's foreign minister said that a de-escalation of the conflict in Ukraine appears far off and reinforced calls for a demarcation line between rebel and government forces in eastern Ukraine to be made a priority.

Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier met for more than an hour late Tuesday with President Vladimir Putin during a visit to Moscow, hours after meeting the Ukrainian leadership in Kiev. The invitation to the Kremlin came at the last minute, adding to a previously scheduled meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

"We are, as things stand, unfortunately still a long way from a sustainable de-escalation of the conflict and even further from a political solution," Steinmeier told reporters in Berlin.

PHOTO: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier arrive for the weekly cabinet meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. The reflections on the right site are from metal coffee cans on the cabinet desk. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier arrive for the weekly cabinet meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. The reflections on the right site are from metal coffee cans on the cabinet desk. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Steinmeier said he used the opportunity in Moscow to set out priorities in implementing the much-violated cease-fire agreement signed in the Minsk in September and to say "where Russia can make its contribution." He said little about how his meeting with Putin went, but Steinmeier's spokesman, Martin Schaefer, said "the atmosphere of the talks was serious and frank."

As long as there is no agreement on a "line of engagement" between the two sides in eastern Ukraine, "we will not make any progress on other questions that are also part of the Minsk agreement," Steinmeier said.

He said he made clear that the situation on the ground needs to be addressed to avoid further escalation — "whether that has consequences, we will see in two or three weeks at the latest."

Putin's meeting with Steinmeier follows a lengthy encounter with Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Group of 20 summit in Australia over the weekend. Merkel later accused Russia of undermining peace across Europe.

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