WASHINGTON -- U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has told Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko that Russia's actions in eastern Ukraine remain an obstacle to improved U.S.-Russian relations and he reiterated his "firm" support for Kyiv.
Spokesman Mark Toner on April 23 said the call was meant to brief the Ukrainian leader on Tillerson’s April 11-12 trip to Moscow, where he met with President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
He said Tillerson relayed his "message to the Russian leadership that, although the United States is interested in improving relations with Russia, Russia's actions in eastern Ukraine remain an obstacle."
Toner said Poroshenko passed on his condolences on the death earlier in the day of a U.S. member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission in eastern Ukraine.
The OSCE said a member of its monitoring staff was killed and two were injured after their vehicle hit a mine in eastern Ukraine in an area controlled by Russia-backed separatists.
The OSCE first deployed staff in 2014 to monitor the cease-fires between the Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces in a conflict that has killed at least 9,940 people. The mission has been extended to at least March 2018.
Tillerson and Poroshenko agreed that "this tragic incident makes clear the need for all sides -- and particularly the Russian-led separatist forces -- to implement their commitments under the Minsk agreements immediately," Toner said.
The spokesman said the secretary reiterated the "firm" U.S. commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. He confirmed that sanctions against Moscow will remain in place until Russia returns control of the Crimean Peninsula to Ukraine and fully implements its commitments in the Minsk agreements.
The 2015 Minsk agreement and subsequent related agreements set out steps to end the war between Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Europe and restore Kyiv's control over the border with Russia.
Tillerson also "emphasized the importance of Ukraine’s continued progress on reform and combating corruption," Toner said.