Russia has said it hopes its ties with the European Union had not yet crossed "the point of no return" as German foreign minister has jetted to Kiev and Moscow in a bid to revive a failing peace plan in east Ukraine.

Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, said on Tuesday Moscow was "interested in the incremental development of ties" with the EU.

"We are hoping that the 'point of no return' has not yet been crossed," Lavrov said.

Lavrov reiterated Moscow's call for the creation of a "common economic and humanitarian space" from Lisbon to the Russian port of Vladivostok on the Pacific, an idea that has been championed by President Vladimir Putin, but has met a cool reception in the EU.

He also urged Kiev authorities to respect a truce agreed in Minsk on September 5 and to enter talks with Kremlin-backed separatists to find a solution to a conflict that has killed more than 4,100 people since April.

Peace talks

Lavrov was due to meet his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier later on Tuesday, but he cautioned there would not be a major breakthrough at the talks. However, he said Moscow wanted to reach "a balance acceptable to all parties".

Lavrov's caution came as the tit-for-tat expulsions of a string of European diplomats have further heightened tensions between the 28-nation bloc and its vast eastern neighbour.

Before meeting Lavrov in Moscow, Steinmeir was scheduled to hold key talks with Ukraine's pro-Western leaders in Kiev who urged Brussels to send a "clear message" to Russia with more sanctions.

The European Union on Monday agreed to blacklist more Kremlin-backed rebels in Ukraine, but stopped short of fresh sanctions against Moscow, saying there  was hope of restarting dialogue with Moscow to end the worst standoff since the Cold War.

On Tuesday, the EU's defence ministers were due to hold a meeting in Brussels to discuss the crisis, with NATO's secretary general Jens Stoltenberg attending the talks.

Source: Agencies