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U.S. urges Russia to pressure Ukraine rebels over attacks

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends an interview with Reuters in Paris, March 4, 2016. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

PARIS (Reuters) - Russia needs to use its influence on separatists in eastern Ukraine to halt attacks by pro-Russian rebels, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Reuters on Friday.

The Minsk peace deal, reached in the Belarussian capital in February 2015, has stalled as attacks have increased in the east where Ukrainian government forces face off against the rebels.

“What we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks is an increase in violent attacks along the line of control ... and whether that is being instigated by Russia, or acquiesced to by Russia, doesn’t matter,” Blinken said in an interview in Paris.

“The Russians have tremendous leverage over the separatists. If they want to turn it (the violence) off they can and indeed they must,” he added.

Blinken said implementing the Minsk peace agreement was the only way forward and was in the interest of all sides, including the Russians who are suffering Western sanctions because of their involvement in the Ukrainian conflict.

Talks on Thursday in Paris, including the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers, as well as their French and German counterparts, produced no breakthrough, according to the Ukrainian foreign minister.

Reporting by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Richard Balmforth