German Chancellor Angela Merkel prepared to host a summit Wednesday with the leaders of Russia, Ukraine and France aimed at reviving the stalled peace process in eastern Ukraine.
Prospects of significant progress on either front look poor. Merkel said ahead of the meeting that "we certainly can't expect miracles" on Ukraine or Syria, but she wanted to exhaust every possibility of progress. Merkel and Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia, Francois Hollande of France and Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine have met sporadically to discuss eastern Ukraine. This is the first time the four have met in more than a year.
The 2015 Minsk agreement brokered by France and Germany has helped end large-scale battles between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russia separatists, but clashes have continued and efforts to reach a political settlement have stalled.
The decision to hold the meeting Wednesday evening in Berlin follows a flurry of telephone diplomacy over the past week. Merkel told reporters Tuesday that the talks would be about "establishing where things stand" and stressed that Germany wouldn't refrain from blunt talk, including on Syria.
Merkel and Hollande have been sharply critical of Russia's support for Assad's forces, with Merkel suggesting Tuesday that Moscow was partly responsible for atrocities in Syria's Aleppo.
Merkel said the possibility of imposing sanctions against Russia for its actions in Syria remained on the table. "But the priority is that we look at lessening people's suffering in some way," she said. Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the Kremlin was not expecting a breakthrough on Ukraine. "The goal of the meeting is to see where we stand and identify the obstacles to fulfilling the Minsk agreements," Peskov said. "Russia has shown a constructive flexibility, but it can't be the only one doing so." Peskov stressed that the Minsk agreements envision action by Ukraine and the rebels, not Russia.