KIEV (AFP) - Russia's controversial aid convoy to war-torn eastern Ukraine returned across the border on Saturday, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel held crisis talks in Kiev with the country's pro-Western leaders.
The visit by Ms Merkel - the most influential Western leader to call on Kiev since the start of the crisis in the ex-Soviet state - comes ahead of a crunch meeting between the presidents of Ukraine and Russia next week.
Tensions soared to a new high on Friday after the Kremlin unilaterally sent what it said was an aid convoy across the border to the insurgent stronghold of Lugansk in a move Kiev branded an "invasion".
The West rebuked Russia over the convoy, with Washington warning Moscow it could face further sanctions while the UN Security Council voiced concerns it could escalate the four-month conflict.
An observer for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) at the border told AFP that the return of the Russian trucks was "complete" by around 10pm GMT Saturday.
US President Barack Obama and Ms Merkel had warned in a telephone call that the Russian convoy marked a "dangerous escalation" of the conflict in Ukraine with Western fears that it could presage Moscow sending in troops.