BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday announced her first summit in over a year with the Russian, Ukrainian and French presidents to discuss efforts toward peace in eastern Ukraine, but ratcheted down expectations of any significant progress.
Merkel invited Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and French President Francois Hollande to meet in Berlin on Wednesday evening. The meeting comes amid tensions between the West and Russia over Moscow's military support for Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces, which the German and French leaders also plan to address.
The 2015 Minsk agreement brokered by France and Germany has helped end large-scale battles between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine, but clashes have continued and efforts to reach a political settlement have stalled.
"We have not achieved what we wanted to and we are not as far along as we wanted to be," Merkel told reporters.
The four leaders have held sporadic meetings to discuss the situation in eastern Ukraine. The last face-to-face encounter was held in Paris on Oct. 2 last year.
The decision to hold Wednesday's meeting in Berlin follows a flurry of telephone diplomacy over the past week.
Merkel noted that there are problems on many fronts — on upholding a cease-fire and on political and humanitarian questions.
"We said that we must exhaust every possibility to try to make progress," she said. "It's about establishing where things stand."
"I would say that we certainly can't expect miracles from the meeting tomorrow, but it is worth every effort to push ahead with the attempts," she added.
Merkel and Hollande will take the opportunity to press Putin on the situation in Syria, the German leader said. Both leaders have been sharply critical of Russia's support for Assad's forces, and Merkel pointed to "Syrian and Russian airstrikes on helpless people, hospitals and doctors."
"I am of the opinion that no options, including that of sanctions, can be taken off the table in view of the situation, but the priority is that we look at lessening people's suffering in some way, and that will be an issue tomorrow," she said.
"We can't expect miracles there either," Merkel said of the discussion on Syria. "But talking is always necessary, even when opinions are a long way apart."
Putin was originally scheduled to travel to Paris this week, but indefinitely postponed the trip last week after France revised its program for the visit and said it would talk about nothing but the Syrian crisis.