US Secretary of State John Kerry has expressed concern to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about “provocative” Russian troop movements along Ukraine’s border, a US official said.
In a morning call with his counterpart on Saturday, Kerry also urged full Moscow support for efforts to free a mission from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe held hostage by pro-Moscow militants in the flashpoint eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk.
The top US diplomat “expressed continued concern that Russia’s provocative troop movements on Ukraine’s border, its support for separatists and its inflammatory rhetoric are undermining stability, security and unity in Ukraine,” the senior State Department official said.
He also “urged Russian support without preconditions for the efforts of the OSCE and the Government of Ukraine to liberate the Vienna Document inspectors and their Ukrainian guides who are being held hostage by pro-Russian separatists in Slavyansk.”
Kerry’s comments came as the Group of Seven top economies and the European Union signalled they would step up economic pressure on Moscow early next week amid fears Russia was preparing an invasion of eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk meanwhile claimed Russia violated his country’s airspace seven times overnight with an aim “to provoke” it into starting a war.
But Moscow denied any transgression by its warplanes, with Lavrov calling for “urgent measures” to de-escalate the crisis that has plunged East-West relations to their lowest point since the Cold War.
During the same phone call, Kerry underscored efforts by Kiev to “promote broad and deep constitutional reform across the country and to contain the very dangerous and violent separatists in Slavyansk.”
In addition, “he called on Russia to publicly support Ukraine’s efforts rather than denigrate them.”