Ukraine crisis: EU invites Moscow to talks on Kiev pact

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Ukrainian troops with a Ukrainian national flag sit atop a vehicle while they leave a scene of a battle in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, Friday, June 13, 2014Image source, AP
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Kiev is continuing its "anti-terrorist operation" in the east of the country against pro-Russia separatists

The EU has said it is willing to include Russia in discussions with Kiev about a planned trade agreement that sparked the crisis in Ukraine.

European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso made the offer in a telephone call with President Putin on Friday.

EU officials said the move was "significant" and reflected a "new climate" in the negotiations.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's defence ministry said one of its planes had been shot down over the city of Luhansk.

A short statement said the plane was carrying Ukrainian servicemen and military equipment. It said the incident had resulted in deaths but did not say how many.

As many as 49 people were said to be on board.

In a separate development, the US said it was confident that tanks being used by separatists in eastern Ukraine came from Russia.

"Russia will claim these tanks were taken from Ukrainian forces, but no Ukrainian tank units have been operating in that area," a US state department official spokewoman said.

"We are confident that these tanks came from Russia," she added.

The appearance of the tanks, filmed in various towns in the Donetsk region, sparked a row between Kiev and Moscow.

Russia has denied allegations that the tanks had entered Ukraine from its territory.

'Political discussions'

The European Union is due to sign an association accord and free trade pact with Kiev in the next few weeks.

It is the same accord that former President Viktor Yanukovych dropped in November, which led to the protests that culminated in his removal from power and triggered the current crisis.

Image source, Reuters
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President Putin had repeatedly called for Moscow to be involved in discussions on the EU agreement
Image source, Reuters
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Ukrainian forces retook the city of Mariupol on Friday, detaining several suspected rebels

Brussels has previously rejected the Russian president's request for Moscow to be involved in the discussions between the EU and Ukraine.

But a European Commission statement said that it had offered Mr Putin the chance to hold "political level" discussions "as a way to dispel any concerns" that Russia had.

A statement from the Kremlin said Mr Putin had agreed to take part in the talks.

Mr Barroso also used the phone call to urge Moscow to halt the flow of arms and fighters into Ukraine.

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Footage appeared of fierce fighting as Ukrainian forces brought Mariupol "under control" - David Stern reports

The operation by Ukraine government forces against pro-Russia rebels continued on Friday, with troops retaking the port city of Mariupol.

Five rebels were reported killed and four government soldiers injured in the city in Donetsk region.

Hundreds of combatants and civilians have been killed since separatists in the Donetsk and neighbouring Luhansk regions declared independence after holding referendums last month.

Kiev said the polls were illegal and vowed to continue its "anti-terrorist operation" in the region.