After meeting in Paris, the French and Ukrainian presidents have voiced hope of making progress in resolving the conflict between government forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
French President Emmanuel Macron told a joint news conference with Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko on June 26 that he expected “consultations” to be held within a four-way process known as the Normandy format before a G20 summit in Germany on July 7-8.
It was not immediately clear whether the consultations would occur in person or take the form of a telephone conversation between the leaders of the countries involved – France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine -- as was the case on a number of occasions in the past.
Poroshenko said that he was "much more optimistic" following his meeting with Macron, adding that "peace can take the form of ending the Russian aggression."
"We have agreed that we will put on paper projects of possible solutions for the Normandy format," he also said.
A cease-fire agreement brokered by France and Germany was signed in Minsk in February 2015 aiming at ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 10,000 people since it began in April 2014, according to the United Nations.
But the deal has failed to end artillery fighting in Ukraine’s east, with each side accusing the other of violating the truce.
Macron said that German Chancellor Angela Merkel shared his determination to resolve the conflict, adding that he disagrees with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's view that the hostilities in Ukraine could be resolved outside of the Minsk agreement framework.
Tillerson told U.S. lawmakers on June 14 that “it is very possible that the government of Ukraine and the government of Russia could come to a satisfactory resolution through some structure other than Minsk that achieve Minsk."
“My caution is I wouldn’t want to handcuff ourselves to Minsk if the parties decide to settle this through a different agreement,” Tillerson also told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Macron also insisted that France refuses to recognize Russia's illegal annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea in March 2014, saying, "France is committed to Ukraine's sovereignty with its recognized borders."
The comments come two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Crimea on a trip that Kyiv condemned as a violation of its sovereignty.
Poroshenko called for the release of Ukrainians held by separatists in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as well as in Russia.
"One hundred and twenty-eight Ukrainian captives are held on the occupied territory and more than 40 in Russian jails,” he said. “We would expect that a revival of the consultations in the Normandy format will enable us to achieve instant progress in this highly sensitive area."
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the four leaders of the so-called Normandy group may hold a phone conversation soon.
"Such a possibility is being worked out via diplomatic channels," Peskov said.
Poroshenko's visit to Paris comes after European Union leaders last week agreed to extend the bloc's economic sanctions against Russia by six months.
The sanctions were first imposed by Brussels in 2014 as a response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its military backing to the separatists who hold parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, Interfax, and TASS