Top US and Russian diplomats meet in Paris over Ukraine crisis

Kerry and Lavrov made no comment to reporters as they headed in to the talks. Reuters
Talks between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, ended late on Sunday after four hours of negotiations to defuse tensions over Ukraine.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has met with Russia\’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Paris for hastily organised talks after the Kremlin set out demands for a diplomatic resolution to the Ukraine crisis.
Sunday\’s talks came after Russian President Vladimir Putin called his US counterpart Barack Obama on Friday to say he was interested in discussing a US proposal on the table to resolve the standoff over Ukraine.
Russia has annexed Crimea and there are reports of thousands of Russian troops massed close to Ukraine\’s borders.
The two diplomats were expected to discuss a Ukraine-backed plan for constitutional reforms and disarmament of irregular forces, international monitors, minority rights, and direct talks between Kyiv and Moscow.
In recent days the concentration of Russian troops, tanks and warships near Ukraine\’s borders has expanded considerably, but Lavrov, told state television Saturday his country has no intention of sending these forces into Ukraine. 
He said he believes the only way to achieve stability in Ukraine, where millions of Russian speakers live in the eastern regions, is to have a federal agreement giving the regional governments more autonomy.
Kerry had been heading back to Washington from Saudi Arabia, where President Obama met with King Abdullah Friday, when he learned of Lavrov\’s comments. The secretary\’s plane changed course during a refueling stop in Shannon, Ireland, and headed for Paris. 
Ukraine\’s immediate neighbors – former Soviet republics that broke away from Moscow more than 20 years ago – and the Kremlin\’s former allies in Eastern Europe have strongly denounced Russia\’s pressure on Ukraine, and their views have been echoed throughout Western Europe. The U.N. General Assembly also voted overwhelmingly to oppose Russia\’s annexation of Crimea earlier this month. 
The United States and its European allies have begun imposing economic sanctions against Russia, and there have been preliminary indications that those moves are already affecting the Russian economy. 
The United States and others also have been pressing Russia to allow international monitors into Crimea to provide assurances that the ethnic-Ukrainian population there is safe from reprisals by pro-Russian militias and local authorities. 
U.S. officials estimate Russia has massed 40,000 troops close to Ukraine\’s borders. Ukrainian government officials contend the Russian buildup around their northern, eastern and southern borders is closer to 100,000 troops. 
Relations between Moscow and Kyiv plummeted nearly a month ago, after Russian forces moved into Crimea. A short-notice referendum quickly followed, resulting in a vote to declare independence from Ukraine and an intention to join the Russian Federation. 
 Putin and the Russian parliament subsequently annexed Crimea, making it a separate part of the Russian state.
In Ukraine Saturday, opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko dropped out of the race for president and threw his support behind billionaire businessman Petro Poroshenko. 
Ukraine\’s former president Viktor Yanukovych left Kyiv for asylum in Russia after large-scale demonstrations against him last month, and the parliament in Kyiv called a presidential election for May. 
Klitschko, a former world heavyweight boxing champion, told delegates from his party the only way for the opposition to take over full control in Ukraine is to nominate, support and elect "a single candidate representing democratic forces." 
Poroshenko and former prime minister Yulia Timoshenko are now the clear frontrunners in the May 25 election. 
Tymoshenko was freed from prison during the tumult of the uprising against  Yanukovych, who had defeated her in Ukraine\’s last previous presidential election, in 2010. last month. She had been jailed since 2011 on charges of abuse of office.
Source – Agencies

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