Four-way talks on the crisis in Ukraine ended with an accord aimed at taking the first steps toward de-escalating the conflict after President Vladimir Putin said he hopes he won't have to send troops.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his American counterpart, John Kerry, said the four parties gathered yesterday in Geneva - the others were Ukrainian foreign minister Andriy Deshchytsya and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton - would work to establish a broad national dialogue to ensure that people's rights were protected.
Lavrov said the deal includes disbanding "illegal armed groups" in all regions of Ukraine and an amnesty for pro-Russian protesters who participated in an uprising against the government in Kiev, except those found guilty of capital crimes.
Watch: Ukraine army vehicles blocked by pro-Russians
The agreement, reached after seven hours of negotiation in Geneva, requires all sides to refrain from violence, intimidation or provocative actions.
Monitors with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe will be tasked with helping Ukrainian authorities and local communities comply with the requirements outlined in the agreement. And Kiev's plans to reform its constitution and transfer more power from the central government to regional authorities must be inclusive, transparent and accountable - and include the creation of a broad national dialogue.
Putin had left the door open to military action in a thinly veiled threat just before the talks began in Geneva.
Putin said that the former Soviet republic was plunging into an "abyss", but said he hoped not to have to use what he has called Russia's right to send troops into Ukraine.
"I very much hope that I am not obliged to use this right and that through political and diplomatic means we can solve all the acute problems in Ukraine," Putin said in his annual televised phone-in with the nation.
His remarks came hours after three pro-Moscow separatists were killed in an overnight gunbattle with Ukrainian troops.
Scores of pro-Kremlin separatists, who Kiev says are backed by Moscow, this week took over parts of the restive southeast of the former Soviet republic.
The upper house of parliament on March 1 authorised the Russian leader to send troops into Ukrainian territory, a move that shocked financial markets time as well as diplomats.
Moscow went on to annex Ukraine's Russian-speaking Crimean peninsula, and now has tens of thousands of troops stationed on the border with its western neighbour.
But it denies backing the separatists currently wreaking havoc in the southeast and has warned Kiev's untested new leaders not to use force against them.
Kiev launched a much-hyped military operation against separatists earlier this week, but it failed when the insurgents humiliated Ukrainian troops by blocking them in and seizing six of their armoured vehicles, to the obvious joy of many of the Russian-speaking locals.
Nato promptly announced it was deploying more forces in eastern Europe and urged Russia to stop "destabilising" Ukraine, which has been in turmoil since the ousting of pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych in February and now threatens to split between its EU-leaning west and Russian-speaking east.
The situation in Ukraine has emerged as the biggest East-West crisis since the end of the cold war.
Washington and Kiev aim to get Moscow to demobilise the militias, and the United States warned Moscow on Wednesday that it risked fresh sanctions unless it made concessions.
- Edward Snowden, the fugitive former US spy agency contractor, asked Putin a question during his televised phone-in. Asked by Snowden about Russia's surveillance programmes, Putin said that Russian special services tap communications in their fight against terrorism, but don't do it on such a massive scale as their US counterparts.
Additional reporting by Reuters, Associated Press