Russian President Vladimir Putin has called US President Barack Obama to discuss a US proposal to resolve the crisis in Ukraine – and they agreed to have Secretary of State John Kerry meet with his Russian counterpart to discuss it, the White House and the Kremlin say.
The rare call from Putin came as Obama wrapped up a week-long visit in which he secured European commitments to isolate Russia for the military seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean region.
Experts warned against reading too much into the call and said it may only be Putin’s “opening bids”.
The White House said Kerry had again presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a US offer of a diplomatic resolution when the two met earlier this week at The Hague.
The two talked for hours just two weeks ago in Paris.
The White House has suggested an “off ramp” for Russia that would include sending Russian troops in Crimea back to their barracks and opening direct talks with Ukraine’s provisional government.
The White House said Obama suggested to Putin that Russia put a “concrete response” in writing and the presidents agreed that Kerry and Lavrov would meet.
The Kremlin had a different take on the call but agreed that Kerry and Lavrov would meet to talk.
A Kremlin statement said that Putin “drew Barack Obama’s attention to continued rampage of extremists who are committing acts of intimidation towards peaceful residents, government authorities and law enforcement agencies in various regions and in Kiev with impunity”.
“In light of this,” it added, “the president of Russia suggested examining possible steps the global community can take to help stabilise the situation”.
It said Putin and Obama agreed that Kerry and Lavrov would discuss the “specific parameters for this joint work”.
Obama flew to Europe almost a week ago seeking support for greater sanctions against Russia. Leaders of the world’s largest industrialised countries on Monday expelled Russia from the Group of Eight until it “changes course” in Ukraine, and they formally cancelled plans to attend an economic summit in Russia in June.
They also declared that they remain ready to intensify sanctions if Russia takes further action in Ukraine.