The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said that more than 160 people have been killed in fighting in eastern Ukraine since the beginning of the year. Alexander Hug with the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine told reporters that as many as seven people were killed in July alone. Hug spoke to journalists in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine late on Thursday. Hug described the situation in the eastern Donbass region as "unstable and unpredictable." He said heavy weapons must be removed from the frontline.
The separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine erupted after Russia's annexation of Crimea and has killed more than 10,000 since April 2014. A 2015 peace agreement signed in Minsk has helped reduce hostilities, but clashes continue. Relations between Moscow and Kiev have been tense since a popular uprising drove a pro-Russian president from power in 2014. Russia went on to annex Crimea from Ukraine and backed a pro-Russian separatist insurgency in the country's east.
Since then, east-west tensions have spiraled to a new post-Cold War low. In July, the foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France met in Berlin to discuss the implementation of a fragile ceasefire for Ukraine and the deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping mission in the country's conflict zone. It was the first meeting of the foreign ministers since February 2017, though lower level officials have met regularly in the past four years in the so-called Normandy format to try to resolve the separatist conflict in Eastern Ukraine.
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