Members of the NATO alliance are meeting with Russian officials in Brussels and more talks are planned at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna on Thursday.
Ukraine has said that one of its soldiers had been killed in fighting with pro-Moscow separatists on the eve of talks between NATO and Russia in Brussels over the conflict.
Kiev on Wednesday said that separatists had targeted its military positions in the east of the country on Tuesday with heavy machine guns and small arms.
"One serviceman of the Joint Forces was fatally wounded," the army said in a statement, adding that its troops had returned fire.
Tensions around Ukraine have escalated in recent months, as Washington and Kiev's European allies accuse Russia of threatening the former Soviet country with invasion.
Moscow is accused of massing some 100,000 troops at the Ukrainian border. The Kremlin describes its troop presence as protection against an encroaching West, particularly NATO, and has demanded wide-ranging concessions from Washington and its allies.
Senior NATO and Russian officials are meeting Wednesday to try to bridge seemingly irreconcilable differences over the future of Ukraine, amid deep skepticism that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s security proposals for easing tensions are genuine.
The meeting comes during a week of high-stakes diplomacy and a US-led effort to prevent preparations for what Washington believes could be a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Moscow denies it is planning an attack. Still, its history of military action in Ukraine and Georgia worries NATO.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko and Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin will lead Moscow’s delegation at the NATO-Russia Council, the first time it’s convened in over two years.
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will also be at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
The meeting is due to run for about three hours. The NATO-Russia Council, their chief forum for talks, was set up two decades ago but full meetings paused when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. It has met only sporadically since, the last time in July 2019.
With around 100,000 combat-ready Russian troops backed by tanks, artillery and heavy equipment massed just across Ukraine’s eastern border, Wednesday’s gathering has taken on great significance, yet it still seems destined to fail.
Putin says Russia’s demands are simple, but key parts of the proposals contained in the documents that Moscow has made public — a draft agreement with NATO countries and the offer of a treaty between Russia and the United States — won’t pass muster at the 30-country military organisation.
Kiev has been battling a pro-Moscow uprisign in two breakaway regions bordering Russia since 2014, when the Kremlin annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula. The conflict has so far left more than 13,000 dead.