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Kiev/Minsk, Belarus: Ukraine and Russia clashed over how to move toward a new ceasefire agreement, after President Petro Poroshenko said his country is ready for “total war" with Vladimir Putin’s forces.

As North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) secretary general Jens Stoltenberg criticized Russia for staging a “serious military buildup" and sending troops and weapons into its western neighbour, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk advocated new “Geneva format" talks to de-escalate the crisis. Russia said that framework, which followed April talks in the Swiss city that excluded pro-Russian separatists, would skirt a process that led to a 5 September cease-fire in Minsk, Belarus.

“There is the Minsk format," Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday in the Belarusian capital. “Attempts to dissolve this format, to present it in a way that the insurgents, representatives of the South-East, may sit aside while the ‘grownups’ agree on what to do, such attempts are completely illusory."

The conflict has lurched into a higher gear since the separatists held on 2 November elections condemned by Ukraine, the US and the European Union as illegitimate. As Russia denies military involvement in the former Soviet republic, it’s still funnelling troops and weapons into Ukraine, Stoltenberg said.

According to Yatsenyuk, the Geneva format is “the most acceptable for solving the crisis in the Ukrainian-Russian relationship," he said in Kiev on Tuesday.

Russian ‘destabilizing’

Those four-way talks between the US, the EU, Ukraine and Russia led to an agreement to ease tension following Putin’s March annexation of the Crimean peninsula. The pact later unravelled as fighting intensified in the conflict, which has killed more than 4,100 people and wounded almost 10,000, according to UN estimates.

“Russia is still destabilizing Ukraine," Stoltenberg said on Tuesday in Brussels. “We see the movement of troops, of equipment, of tanks, of artillery and also advanced air defence systems. This is in violation of the cease-fire agreements."

Six Ukrainian troops were killed and nine wounded in the past 24 hours, Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said on Tuesday in Kiev. Yatsenyuk said Russia was seriously violating the Minsk agreement, which has been broken almost daily.

‘Total war’

Ukraine doesn’t want war and is fighting for EU values, Poroshenko said on Monday on Twitter. He added: “We are prepared for a scenario of total war."

EU foreign ministers decided during a meeting on Monday to impose additional travel bans and asset freezes against separatists involved in the 2 November ballots and will release the names by the end of the month. The bloc left unclear whether Russian supporters of the breakaway states in Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions would also be targeted.

They stopped short of stiffer economic sanctions against Russian companies or industries, and may deliberate the matter again at a 18-19 December summit.

Sanctions ‘working’

“Targeted measures against individuals is a must," Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevicius told reporters. “They’re working. They have effect, in spite of some denials."

The EU has blacklisted 119 Russians and Ukrainians, including at least eight officials and military officers from the breakaway regions. Sanctions require unanimity among the 28 governments in the bloc, which have struggled to overcome divisions over how to deal with Russia.

Russia won’t ask the US and the EU to lift sanctions, Lavrov said during a visit to Belarus. He called the penalties a “road to nowhere."

The ruble gained 1% to 46.73 per dollar by 2:14pm in Moscow. The Micex Index rose 0.7% to 1,517.44. Ukraine’s hryvnia declined 0.1% to 15.55 per dollar, leaving it 47% weaker this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Bloomberg

Patrick Donahue in Brisbane and James G. Neuger in Brussels contributed to this story.

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