EU urges Russia to work with new Ukraine leader as toll mounts

EU urges Russia to work with new Ukraine leader as toll mounts
The battle for the main transport hub in Ukraine's industrial heartland erupted Monday just hours after president-elect Petro Poroshenko vowed to take a tough stand against the "terrorists". Poroshenko said Monday the military would press its offensive against the insurgents who now control about a dozen cities and towns in the east.

DONETSK, Ukraine - Ukraine said Tuesday it had recaptured the airport in the eastern city of Donetsk after deadly battles with pro-Moscow rebels, while EU leaders urged Russia to work with the country's new president.

Caught up in the drama in Donetsk were a team of international monitors with the OSCE who have gone missing after being detained at a checkpoint.

As fear gripped the city's streets, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on Ukraine to end its "punitive" operation in the rebel-held east and for talks between Kiev and the insurgents.

The battle for the main transport hub in Ukraine's industrial heartland erupted Monday just hours after president-elect Petro Poroshenko vowed to take a tough stand against the "terrorists".

"The airport is under our full control. The enemy suffered heavy losses. We have none," Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said.

EU leaders, at a Brussels summit, urged Russia to work with Poroshenko and to continue withdrawing its troops from the country's border.

Russia should also use its leverage on the armed separatists to de-escalate the situation" in the east, said a draft EU summit statement seen by AFP.

The EU has applied visa bans and asset freezes to a series of high-profile Russian and Ukrainian figures judged to have helped in Moscow's annexation of Crimea or stoked separatist violence in eastern Ukraine.

Poroshenko said Monday the military would press its offensive against the insurgents who now control about a dozen cities and towns in the east.

At the same time, the 48-year-old pro-Western chocolate tycoon said he was ready to engage with the Russian leadership and was optimistic a meeting with President Vladimir Putin could be arranged soon.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a visit by Poroshenko was "not being considered".

The EU leaders also pressed on Poroshenko the need to make all efforts on his side to ease the conflict and to continue to adopt economic and political reforms to bring Ukraine up to European standards.

US President Barack Obama called the president-elect and offered him "the full support of the United States" but UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Ukraine to use "exclusively peaceful means" to regain control in the east.

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