(Adds quotes, detail, context)
BERLIN, April 14 Russia may be playing a
behind-the-scenes role in escalating tensions in eastern
Ukraine, a German government spokeswoman said on Monday.
Tensions between the two countries heated up over the
weekend, with Kiev saying it planned to launch a "full-scale
anti-terrorist operation" against local rebellions in eastern
Ukraine that it says are inspired and directed by the Kremlin.
"There are a lot of signs that armed groups in eastern
Ukraine are getting support from Russia," Christiane Wirtz, a
spokeswoman for the German government, said in Berlin.
"If you look at the appearance, the uniform and the weapons
of some of these groups, they can hardly be civilians who have
spontaneously formed self-defence groups."
Wirtz did not say whether this meant that the threshold for
tougher "third-phase" economic sanctions against Russia had been
reached. She said European Union foreign ministers meeting in
Luxembourg on Monday would discuss that.
For his part, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said
on Monday Russia was clearly instigating the destabilisation of
Wirtz said Russia had a special responsibility to prevent
further escalation in its fellow former Soviet republic and
added that this should include withdrawing Russian troops from
the border with Ukraine, reducing natural gas prices for its
neighbour and using "restrained language".
"It must also be clear that violence is not a means of
settling differences," Wirtz said, A planned meeting on Thursday
between the foreign ministers of the United States, Ukraine,
Russia and the EU foreign policy chief should be the first step
towards a political solution, she said.
A spokeswoman for the German foreign ministry said signs of
Russian influence came from daily information from the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
mission and "numerous sources".
(Reporting by Michelle Martin, Erik Kirschbaum, Noah Barkin and
Hans-Edzard Busemann; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by