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Kerry, Lavrov Expected To Discuss Ukraine Crisis

  • RFE/RL

US Secretary of State John Kerry met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during Iran nuclear talks in Vienna last month.

US Secretary of State John Kerry met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during Iran nuclear talks in Vienna last month.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are scheduled to meet on December 4 with the crisis in Ukraine expected to be among the topics up for discussion.

The two will meet on the sidelines of a gathering in Basel, Switzerland of top diplomats from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The OSCE has been tasked with monitoring a September 5 cease-fire in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russia separatists.

That truce, however, has been violated regularly, especially in and around the international airport in the rebel-held city of Donetsk.

A fresh cease-fire just for the airport came into force on December 2, a day after it was negotiated by Ukrainian and Russian military officials.

However, the Ukrainian military accused rebel forces of breaking that truce almost immediately.

Ukraine's National Security Council on December 3 claimed the separatists suffered heavy losses after launching attacks on the airport.

"This object remains under Ukrainian forces' control," spokesman Andriy Lysenko said.

Kerry said the Washington was eager to see the Minsk agreement --which imposed the September 5 cease-fire and spelled out further steps to end the crisis in eastern Ukraine -- enforced.

"We have very, very strong energy-related, trade-related, security-related interests with respect to the outcome of that conflict," Kerry said in Brussels.

Ukraine and Western countries have accused Russia of fueling the crisis in eastern Ukraine by supplying the separatists with heavy weapons and fighters, charges which Moscow denies.

In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama said he was not optimistic Russian President Vladimir Putin will change course on Ukraine, characterizing the Russian leader's position, as a "nationalist backward-looking approach to Russian policy that is scaring the heck out of his neighbors and is badly damaging his economy."

Obama told business leaders in Washington that Putin would not change until "the politics inside of Russia catch up to what's happening in the economy inside of Russia."

However, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said NATO should open a fresh channel of communication with Russia.

NATO foreign ministers agreed to ask Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to find ways to restart talks between both sides' military experts, Steinmeier said in Brussels.

"We should have a minimum level of exchange with Russia in these critical times," he said.

Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said fresh talks with Russian, pro-Russian, and OSCE officials could begin next week.

Kuchma is Kyiv's representative at the so-called contact group.

With reporting by AFP and dpa

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