US Secretary of State John Kerry has met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at his summer residence in Sochi. The US diplomat aims to push the Russian leader to fully implement the fragile Ukraine ceasefire.
A top US official said Kerry's meeting with Putin was "a critical moment" for Ukraine, with Washington looking to ensure the "next steps in concrete implementation" of the Minsk peace deal which was signed in February.
Violations from both pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian governement forces have prevented the ceasefire from ever been fully imposed.
"We have been very, very clear publicly that if Minsk is fully implemented ... including restoration of the sovereign border, there will be an opportunity to roll back sanctions," the US official said.
He warned, however, that pressure would be increased if more serious violations came to light. The US and the European Union first imposed a number of sanctions on Russian individuals and businesses in April 2014.
Relations between Moscow and Washington collapsed last spring when Russia annexed Crimea.
The US, along with its Western allies believes that Russia is supporting separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine with arms and manpower - claims which Moscow has repeatedly denied.
Prior to meeting Putin on Tuesday, Kerry was locked in talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov for four hours.
Also on the agenda on Tuesday were the ongoing conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Libya, as well as negotiations with Iran which seek to reach a potentially historic deal on curtailing their nuclear program.
"We have a lot of business we could do together if there is interest," a senior US State Department official told reporters.
Ahead of their meeting, Kerry and Lavrov also laid wreaths at a World War II memorial to mark 70 years since the victory over Nazi Germany.
Still no ceasefire
The talks between Kerry and Putin came just days after German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with the Russian president.
Putin remarked on Sunday during a news conference with Merkel that the latest Ukraine ceasefire agreed in Minsk was moving forward, "despite problems," and that it had recently been quieter in Ukraine.
Speaking after her talks with Putin, however, Merkel countered Putin saying "We still do not have a ceasefire."
ksb/kms (Reuters, AFP)