Russia\’s foreign minister says Moscow has "absolutely no intention" of ordering its armed forces to cross over the Ukrainian border, in a statement that appears to rule out an invasion of mainland Ukraine following Russia\’s seizure of Crimea.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told state television on Saturday that Moscow had absolutely no intention of and interest in crossing Ukraine\’s borders after the seizure of Crimea.
"We (Russia and the West) are getting closer in our positions," he added, saying recent contacts had shown the outlines of a "possible joint initiative which could be presented to our Ukrainian colleagues".
The remarks came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin called U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday to discuss a U.S. proposal for resolving the crisis in Ukraine. U.S. officials say the de-escalation proposal was fully coordinated with the Ukrainian government.
The White House said Obama suggested that Putin offer a written response to the proposed diplomatic solution presented to Foreign Minister Lavrov by Secretary of State John Kerry earlier in the week.
A White House statement about the call did not give details of the proposal Kerry gave Lavrov, but the U.S. has been pressing Russia to pull back its troops to their Crimean bases and allow international monitors to go into Crimea to assure that the ethnic Ukrainian minority there is safe.
President Obama said the Ukrainian government continued to take a "restrained and de-escalatory" approach to the crisis and urged Russia to support this process and avoid further provocation.
The Russian president had recently ordered troops to assemble by the border with Ukraine, with the US estimating on Frida, that his total forces in Crimea numbered about 40,000.
Earlier, in an interview with CBS, Obama said Russia\’s military moves near the Ukrainian border may be an effort to intimidate Ukraine.
Lavrov and Kerry are expected to meet again in the coming days to discuss the next steps.
Quoting a statement from Russia\’s Foreign Ministry, Reuters says Lavrov and Kerry discussed Ukraine in a phone call on Saturday as well as the timing of further contact. The ministry said the call was initiated by the United States and followed Russian President Vladimir Putin\’s call to U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday. to discuss a U.S. diplomatic proposal for Ukraine.
Boxer-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko pulled out of the race for Ukrainian president on Saturday, throwing his weight instead behind billionaire confectionary oligarch Petro Poroshenko.
Klitschko\’s withdrawal sets up a May 25 contest between the man known as the \’Chocolate King\’ and Ukraine\’s former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko.
Poroshenko, 48, confirmed his candidacy late on Friday.
Several opinions polls already had him in the lead even before he said he would run to succeed ousted president Viktor Yanukovich.
Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Putin has assured him that Russia had no intention of making additional moves into Ukrainian territory.
The head of Ukraine\’s national security council said Russia has around 100,000 troops along Ukraine\’s borders in the north, south, and east. He said Russian forces were in full readiness to strike. Western experts believe the number of Russian forces near eastern and southern Ukraine is close to 30,000.
Also Friday, Russia described as "counterproductive" a U.N. resolution that refuses to recognize its annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. Russia\’s Foreign Ministry said the U.N. General Assembly resolution will only complicate efforts to settle Ukraine\’s internal political crisis.
The US and its allies have imposed sanctions on members of Putin\’s inner circle, and threatened to take action to target the Russian economy, in response to Moscow\’s actions in Crimea.
Moscow formally annexed Crimea after the predominantly ethnic Russian region held a referendum which backed joining Russia.
Kiev and the West condemned the vote as "illegal".
The move followed months of street protests, which led to the overthrow of pro-Kremlin Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February.
Ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych called Friday for referendums to determine the status of all Ukrainian regions. He said only a nationwide referendum and not an early presidential election can stabilize Ukraine and preserve its sovereignty and integrity.