Europe

Merkel: Russia should withdraw from Ukraine border

BERLIN (AP) — Germany has called on Russia to withdraw its troops from the border with Ukraine and tone down reports in Russian state media that Berlin says are fueling separatist sentiment among ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.

Chancellor Angela Merkel told Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone late Tuesday his country holds "the main responsibility" for calming the situation, government spokesman Georg Streiter said. "The continued strong presence of the Russian military along the Ukrainian border, and the continued inflammatory reporting by Russian state media that are also watched in eastern Ukraine are a destabilizing factor," Streiter told reporters Wednesday.

Both are seen by pro-Russian separatists as a sign that Moscow backs their armed uprising, he claimed. Streiter declined to say whether Merkel shared Putin's assessment — reported in Russian media — that Ukraine risks plunging into civil war.

"The Germany government isn't interested in a choice of words that would escalate the situation," he said. Anti-Russian sentiment has been rising in Germany, too, since the start of the crisis in Ukraine. Earlier this week, Germany's best-selling daily, Bild, called for two Soviet-era tanks to be removed from a war memorial in Berlin.

Streiter dismissed the suggestion, saying the German government "respects this special kind of memorial to the fallen soldiers of the Red Army during World War II" and would honor its commitment to maintain the monument the way it is.

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