U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says all sides in the Ukraine conflict must prevent breaches of a cease-fire agreed in February in Minsk and that the United States and Europe could ease sanctions against Russia if the peace deal is “fully implemented.”
“If and when Minsk is fully implemented, it is clear the U.S. and EU sanctions can begin to be rolled back,” Kerry said on May 12 following a four-hour meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi.
It was Kerry’s first trip to Russia since the Ukraine crisis began, and he stressed the “urgent need” for U.S.-Russian cooperation on confronting global challenges, including continued fighting between Kyiv’s forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Prior to meeting with Putin, Kerry held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that also lasted four hours.
Kerry said he “made clear” Washington’s “deep concerns regarding the situation on the ground” in eastern Ukraine, which continues to be embroiled in sporadic fighting despite the accord.
He warned that to “resort to force by any party at this time would be extremely destructive."
Relations between Moscow and Washington have deteriorated sharply following Russia's annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in March 2014.
The West and Kyiv also accuse Russia of supporting separatist rebels with arms and manpower, a claim that Moscow denies.
Both Washington and Brussels have slapped sanctions against Russia in response to the Crimea annexation and the Kremlin’s backing of the rebels in eastern Ukraine, where more than 6,100 people have been killed in the fighting since April.
Lavrov said after Kerry’s meeting with Putin that Moscow and Washington agree on the need to avoid steps that could further harm relations between the two countries.
He said the discussions helped Moscow and Washington to "better understand each other."
Kerry said on Twitter earlier in the day that he held "frank discussions" with Putin and Lavrov about Ukraine, Syria, and Iran, and that it is “important to keep lines of communication between the U.S. and Russia open as we address pressing global issues.”
Russian presidential aide Yury Ushakov told reporters that the talks between Kerry and Putin were “open” and “quite friendly." But he added that the discussions yielded no major breakthrough.