Resolution to Ukrainian crisis taking shape, Russia says
Foreign minister and US Secretary of State John Kerry to meet in Paris, after Putin called Obama to discuss idea for ending Ukraine crisis
Moscow and the West are getting closer in their positions on Ukraine and recent contacts have shown the outlines of a "possible joint initiative" that can be presented to Kiev, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov says.
Lavrov spoke hours after the presidents of both countries held an hour-long telephone conversation initiated by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Lavrov will meet US Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris today to discuss the issue. Kerry, who was halfway home from Saudi Arabia, changed course after his plane stopped at Shannon, Ireland, to refuel.
US President Barack Obama was in Riyadh, fresh from talks with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the final stop on a six-day trip that had been dominated by the Ukrainian situation.
The Putin-Obama call is believed to have been their first direct conversation since the United States and its European allies imposed sanctions on Putin's inner circle and threatened to penalise Russia's economy.
The West imposed sanctions after Moscow annexed Crimea following a referendum on union with the Russian Federation that the West said was illegal.
Putin called to discuss an American proposal for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis, which US Kerry presented to Lavrov last week, the White House said without specifying details.
For his part, Putin highlighted a "rampage of extremists" intimidating officials and residents "in various regions", his office said.
Lavrov said Moscow had no intention of ordering its armed forces to cross over the Ukrainian border.
"We have absolutely no intention and no interests in crossing the Ukrainian border," he told Russian state television yesterday, appearing to rule out firmly an invasion of mainland Ukraine after Moscow seized Crimea.
Lavrov said Moscow's priority was to see Ukraine implement reform that would create a federalised structure with every region having a degree of autonomy.
The West was showing openness to the idea of a federalised Ukraine, he said. "They are listening. I can say that a federation [for Ukraine] is far from being a forbidden word in our talks."
He said he expected the West to make this point clear to the strongly pro-European Union new Ukrainian government.
He said the new Ukrainian constitution should also make clear explicitly that the country was a neutral state - ruling out any future membership of Nato.
Ukrainian opposition leader Vitali Klitschko decided against contesting a snap presidential election in May and would instead back the candidacy of businessman Petro Poroshenko.
Klitschko said he planned to run for mayor of Kiev in elections that will be held alongside the May 25 presidential poll.
Bloomberg, Reuters, Agence France-Presse