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Germany has only modest hopes for Ukraine talks on Tuesday

BERLIN (Reuters) - There is little chance of major progress on ending fighting in eastern Ukraine, Germany’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday, ahead of international talks.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is due to meet his counterparts from France, Ukraine and Russia in Minsk on Tuesday to review progress on implementing last year’s ceasefire accord and on a road map the leaders of the four countries agreed to draw up in November.

Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer told reporters Germany hoped Ukraine and Russia would agree to disengage their forces in some additional areas beyond the three “hot spots” agreed earlier.

He said officials hoped to see clear signals from the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers that they remained committed to implementing the ceasefire accord and to constructing a road map for doing so.

“I don’t think it’s a big secret that the expectations of Mr. Steinmeier for the meeting tomorrow are modest,” Schaefer said. “Neither the intensive pre-negotiations and discussions of the last months nor the public statements made by the parties provide much hope for a sensational breakthrough.”

He added: “We have the impression that the conflict parties have dug into their trenches and are not able to really get a handle on the ceasefire violations and stop the shooting.”

Separatist violence erupted in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and has killed more than 9,000 people. The west blames Russia for aiding the separatists and has imposed economic sanctions on Moscow.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week said he was willing to attend four-way talks on the conflict if German and French mediators believed it would be useful, but said there was “a fairly serious risk that this could turn out to be a meeting for the sake of meeting.”

Reporting by Caroline Copley and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Andrea Shalal and Janet Lawrence