PARIS — The United States and Russia failed on Sunday to reach a breakthough deal on Ukraine as US Secretary of State John Kerry called on Moscow to pull back its forces saying they were creating a "climate of fear."
But the two sides did agree to keep talking after what were described as "frank" and "constructive" negotiations lasting some four hours late into the night at the lavish residence of the Russian ambassador to Paris.
The latest bid to resolve the worst East-West standoff in the post-Cold War era came after Russian leader Vladimir Putin unexpectedly called US President Barack Obama on Friday.
Both sides stressed they believe in finding a diplomatic solution and put forward plans on how to end the crisis, triggered in February when the pro-Moscow government in Kiev fell and the Kremlin sent thousands of troops into Crimea before annexing the southern peninsula.
Washington and its allies have imposed stinging sanctions on Moscow for its flagrant land grab and for massing thousands of troops on the borders of eastern Ukraine. US officials believe that the measures are biting hard and causing Putin to seek a way out.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the hastily-arranged talks with Kerry in Paris had been "constructive" and would continue, but he reiterated Russia's belief that Ukraine should become a federal nation, according its ethnic Russians greater autonomy.
Kerry said Washington had agreed to study Moscow's ideas unveiled in the "frank" talks, but stressed the US administration believes Russia's "actions to be illegal and illegitimate."
He urged Russia to pull back its forces from the borders of Ukraine, and said any talks on the country's future must include Kiev's leaders.
"We will not accept a path forward where the legitimate government of Ukraine is not at the table. This principle is clear. No decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine," Kerry told reporters later.
Any progress "must include a pullback of the very large Russian force that is currently massing along Ukraine's borders," Kerry added, saying the US believed "these forces are creating a climate of fear and intimidation in Ukraine" which did not create the right atmosphere for talks.
But Lavrov did not mention the troops in his press conference, and both sides acknowledged differences still remained.— AFP