Ukraine’s fate hangs in balance as leaders meet in Minsk

The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany are meeting Wednesday for a four-way summit in Belarus to try to hash out a peace agreement between Kiev and Russian-backed separatists amid a spike in fighting.

The talks scheduled for later in Minsk come as President Obama warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that the “costs for Russia will rise” if its aggression does not stop. The West alleges that Moscow is supporting rebel forces in eastern Ukraine, a charge that Russia has repeatedly denied.

While the fresh diplomatic push was getting underway Wednesday, clashes continued to rage in rebel strongholds in eastern Ukraine. Shelling rocked a bus station in Donetsk and city officials there said three people were killed overnight. On Tuesday, Kiev said 16 people were killed and 48 wounded in rocket strikes.

More than 5,400 people have lost their lives in the conflict that started nearly a year ago, and close to a million people have been displaced from their homes. Tens of thousands of people have fled to neighboring countries.

A previous peace deal agreed in Minsk has failed to quell the violence.

“We demand an unconditional peace,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Wednesday in a statement on his website. “We demand a cease-fire, a withdrawal of all foreign troops, and closing of the border. … We will find a compromise.”

Russian news agency Tass reported Tuesday without providing details that negotiators had reached a tentative agreement on the terms of a deal ahead of the high-level talks. The report was subsequently disputed by local media in Ukraine.