BERLIN Germany and Russia played down prospects of four-way talks on Wednesday achieving a breakthrough in the stalled Ukraine peace process at the first such meeting in just over a year.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois will also raise their concerns about Russia's role in the Syrian civil war with President Vladimir Putin during his first visit to Germany since 2013.
"It was always clear to the chancellor and the German government that if such a (Ukraine) meeting occurred, that there would have to be discussion about Syria," Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters.
"We have a catastrophic situation there. Don't expect more from the meeting today than these conditions and an assessment of who is responsible will be clearly named."
Merkel told reporters on Tuesday not to expect any miracles from either discussion despite earlier comments in which she had said it only made sense for leaders to meet on Ukraine if some progress could be expected.
Seibert defended the decision to host the gathering of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine despite considerably lowered expectations. He said it followed intensive talks by experts about ending Ukraine's conflict, in which more than 9,600 people have been killed since 2014.
"It is right to take another run at it; every possibility should be used to achieve some progress," he said. "But first we need a brutally honest assessment of the situation, and that is what will happen this evening."
The Kremlin on Wednesday joined Germany and Ukraine in saying it did not expect any diplomatic progress at the talks. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the discussions were meant to assess the current situation and identify obstacles to implementing the Minsk peace deal for Ukraine.
A ceasefire agreed in the Belarussian capital Minsk in February 2015 stemmed heavy fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed rebels, but violence routinely flares along a demarcation line. Moscow and Kiev accuse each other of violating the agreement and blocking implementation of the peace terms.
Merkel, Hollande, Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will meet at the German chancellery on Wednesday over a working dinner, joined by the foreign ministers of all four countries and experts.
Hollande and Merkel will see Putin separately after the Ukraine discussions are completed and Poroshenko departs.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal in Berlin and Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow; editing by Mark Heinrich)