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Nov 17, 12:21 PM EST

Tough stances from Putin, Merkel over Ukraine


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MOSCOW (AP) -- The leaders of Russia and Germany squared off over Ukraine from opposite sides of the globe, with Vladimir Putin warning that Moscow will not accept a defeat for the pro-Russian rebels and Angela Merkel accusing the Kremlin of undermining peace across Europe.

But despite the harsh rhetoric, European Union foreign ministers refrained from increasing the sanctions against Moscow, voicing support for a floundering peace deal in eastern Ukraine that has been undermined by continuing hostilities.

At least 10 people were killed and 17 others wounded in the latest fighting, authorities reported Monday.

In an interview with German ARD television broadcast late Sunday, Putin said he still believes in the success of peace efforts in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels have been battling Kiev's troops in a conflict that has claimed more than 4,000 lives.

Merkel, the German chancellor, spoke Monday in Sydney after the G-20 summit, which Putin left early after receiving a chilly response from Western leaders. In unequivocal terms, she said Russia's annexation of Crimea had raised the threat of more conflicts in Europe.

"Who would have thought that, 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, after the end of the Cold War and the end of the world's separation into two blocks, something like this could have happened in the middle of Europe?" Merkel said. "Old ways of thinking in spheres of influence, which spurn international law, must not become accepted."

The German leader warned that regional conflicts like the one still raging in eastern Ukraine "can very quickly broaden to major fires."

"It's not only about Ukraine. It's about Moldova, it's about Georgia, if it continues like this ... one has to wonder about Serbia, one has to wonder about the countries in the western Balkans," Merkel said.

Merkel insisted that European Union and U.S. sanctions against Russia would remain in place "as far and long as they are needed."

In the rebel-held stronghold of Donetsk, officials said Monday that one civilian had been killed and eight injured in fighting over the weekend. On the Ukrainian side, six troops were reported killed and nine wounded in clashes Sunday, and unidentified attackers killed three traffic police.

The pound of artillery fire could be heard Monday in the rebel-held eastern city of Donetsk and residents lined up outside banks to withdraw their dwindling cash.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied claims by Ukraine and the West that Moscow has been fueling the rebellion with troops and weapons.

Putin dodged the question in the ARD interview, saying "in today's world, anyone waging a fight that they believe fair will always find weapons."

He accused the West of turning a blind eye to Ukraine's use of heavy weapons against residential areas in rebel-held areas.

"You want the Ukrainian central authorities to annihilate everyone there, all of their political foes and opponents?" he said. "Is that what you want? We certainly don't. And we won't let it happen."

In Brussels, the EU foreign ministers voiced support for Ukraine's much-violated September cease-fire, urged foreign fighters to leave and demanded that the Ukraine-Russian border be better monitored. The EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said more sanctions targeting other separatist leaders are to be decided upon in the next two weeks.

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Peter Leonard in Donetsk, Ukraine, Raf Casert in Brussels and Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report.

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(An earlier version of this story gave an out-of-date death toll for the fighting in eastern Ukraine, which is now estimated at more than 4,000.)

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