PARIS (Reuters) - A meeting of Ukrainian, Russian, German and French foreign ministers scheduled in Berlin on Sunday could be a first step towards a Ukraine-Russia peace summit along the lines of one that took place in Normandy last month, the French government said on Saturday.
The French statement followed a discussion earlier in the day between President Francois Hollande and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and came after an apparent escalation of tensions between the two ex-Soviet states.
Hollande called on Russia to respect Ukraine's territorial integrity and said Ukraine should exercise "restraint and discernment in its military activities" and called for a renewed "political process".
"Both men underlined the humanitarian urgency and the needs of the population in the east of Ukraine," the statement said.
"France is ready for a new summit in the Normandy format to support the process. The meeting of French, German, Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers planned for Sunday could be a first step towards that meeting."
On Friday Ukraine said its artillery destroyed part of an armored column from Russia that entered its territory overnight, and said its forces came under shellfire from Russia in what appeared to be a major military escalation between the ex-Soviet states.
Russia's government denied its forces had crossed into Ukraine, calling the Ukrainian report "some kind of fantasy", and in turn raised its own serious concerns about activity by the U.S.-led NATO defense alliance near its borders.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was hopeful the meeting in Berlin would be a step towards ending the crisis in Ukraine.
"I hope that it will finally be possible to bring about an end to these violent confrontations and to get urgently needed aid to the people affected by the violence in eastern Ukraine," he told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag in an advance copy of an article due to be published on Sunday.
(Reporting by Andrew Callus; Editing by Stephen Powell)