Hague urges Russian action on Ukraine peace plan

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Brussels (AFP) - The case for tougher sanctions against Russia gets stronger every day Moscow fails to take concrete action to support the Ukraine government's peace plan, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Wednesday.

The shooting down of a Ukrainian helicopter, killing all nine on board, by pro-Russian rebels Tuesday, was hard to reconcile with President Vladimir Putin's backing of the plan, Hague said.

"We have not seen the actions to match that," Hague said as he arrived for a NATO foreign ministers meeting dominated by the Ukraine crisis.

No Putin follow-up, "means the case for sanctions gets stronger," he said.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, just returned from Kiev, said the helicopter attack showed "just how fragile the situation is and how fast progress made can be destroyed ... by the separatists on the ground."

There seemed to be some small chance of a de-escalation of the crisis but there was little reason to be optimistic, Steinmeier said.

Russia said Wednesday it hoped Kiev and the international community would take heed of the "positive signals" it was sending over the Ukraine crisis.

"We are counting on the positive signals that the Russian president is now sending being heard across the world and, above all, in Ukraine," Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told Russian news agencies.

Putin on Tuesday asked senators to revoke a March 1 resolution allowing him to send troops into Ukraine, a surprise reversal welcomed by Kiev as his "first practical step" towards resolving the crisis.

The West says Moscow drives the fighting in eastern Ukraine and US President Barack Obama has warned Putin that Moscow could face much tougher sanctions if it does not move to defuse the crisis.

Putin has urged Kiev to extend a one-week truce with insurgents, which ends Friday, and launch direct talks despite the shooting down of the Ukrainian helicopter.

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko warned meanwhile that he could cancel the ceasefire in response to the attack.

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