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Russia rules out intention to invade Ukraine

Foreign minister says Moscow has "absolutely no intention" of ordering its forces to cross the Ukrainian border.

Last updated: 29 Mar 2014 13:43
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Ukrainian soldiers withdrawing from Simferopol in Crimea [AP]

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.

"We have absolutely no intention and no interests in crossing the Ukrainian border," Sergei Lavrov told Russian state television on Saturday.

"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".

Lavrov's comments came after US President Barack Obama urged his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to withdraw troops from near the Ukraine border, in the first direct contact between the two leaders since the Crimea takeover.

The White House said on Saturday that Obama had urged Putin, in a "frank and direct" telephone conversation, to ease tensions by removing troops, and respond to proposals for a diplomatic solution put forward by the US earlier this week. 

The Kremlin, however, said that Putin had used the conversation to warn Obama that the interim government of Ukraine was allowing a "rampage of extremists" and suggested "possible steps by the international community to help stabilise the situation".

Al Jazeera's Peter Sharp reporting from Moscow, said: "The current government in Ukraine is unacceptable to Russia. And, of course, Russia is maintaining that there can be no movement at all unless the Ukrainians come out and sign off on Crimea and say that Crimea is not part of Ukraine any more. I can't see them saying that."

The Friday telephone conversation is believed to have been the first between Obama and Putin since the US and the EU began imposing sanctions on Russia over the takeover of the peninsula.

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. 

Obama had earlier told CBS news that Russian troops were "massing along that border under the guise of military exercises".

He insisted that Russia needed "to move back those troops and to begin negotiations directly with the Ukrainian government, as well as the international community".

He denied Russian statements that the West was trying to encircle Russia.

"We have no interest in circling Russia and we have no interest in Ukraine beyond letting Ukrainian people make their own decisions about their own lives," he said.

Al Jazeera's Alan Fisher reporting from Washington DC, said: "It is really about trying to push forward, get some sort of diplomatic solution that everyone can live with. No one is going to get exactly what they want out of this, but Barack Obama believes that the diplomacy is the way ahead."

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, meanwhile, told the Interfax news agency that his country was completely in control of Crimea and that all Ukrainian soldiers had left.

Putin also congratulated the Russian armed forces. "The recent events in Crimea were a serious test. They demonstrated the new capacities of our armed forces in terms of quality and the high moral spirit of the personnel," he said, quoted by Russian news agencies.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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