Merkel eyes expanded trade with Russia, peace in Ukraine

BERLIN – Germany has said it is prepared to open talks with Russia on a European-Eurasian joint free-trade area if the conflict in Ukraine can be resolve peacefully.

The disclosure came a day after the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported German Chancellor Angela Merkel had made “a decent offer” to Russian President Vladimir Putin to solve the Ukrainian conflict.

Christiane Wirtz, deputy spokeswoman of the German government said at a press conference on Friday: "In principle, we are open for talks on a joint free-trade area."

"Germany has not offered Russia a concrete proposal, but signaled its openness in principle."

- Intense diplomacy

Merkel reportedly said at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos on Thursday that Germany was ready to open talks on a possible free trade area between the EU and the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union, while underlining that a comprehensive peace agreement in Ukraine was a pre-condition.

Wirtz emphasized that German government’s main focus remained the achievement of progress on a political solution to the eastern Ukraine crisis.

Germany has recently carried out intense diplomacy in an effort to save the hard-won Sept. 5 ceasefire agreement between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany gathered in Berlin for talks on Wednesday but failed to achieve a breakthrough.

A joint statement by the foreign ministers released after the meeting called on all the parties to cease fighting in the region.

- Military offensive

They also demanded all sides cease hostilities and withdraw heavy weapons in accordance with a "line of contact" previously agreed on Sep. 19, 2014.

A day later, at least 13 people were killed and many others injured after a mortar shell hit near a bus stop in downtown Donetsk.

More than 5.086 people have been killed in the conflict in eastern, according to the UN.

The Ukrainian government blames Russia for not using its influence over the pro-Russian separatists to implement the ceasefire agreement.

Moscow has accused Ukraine of carrying out indiscriminate bombardment during its military offensive against the separatists.

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