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US and Russia trade calls for action over Geneva deal on Ukraine

The US and Russia have called on one another to implement the terms of the Geneva deal aimed at defusing unrest in Ukraine. The US has said Kyiv has already done its bit to honor the deal, although Moscow disagrees.

The State Department said US Secretary of State John Kerry held a phone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov where he urged him to meet Ukraine halfway on the deal.

"The secretary urged Russia to take concrete steps to help implement the Geneva agreement, including publicly calling on separatists to vacate illegal buildings and checkpoints, accept amnesty and address their grievances politically," department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a news briefing.

The Geneva deal, agreed on by the US, EU, Russia and Ukraine, calls on armed groups in eastern Ukraine to surrender their weapons and end their occupation of government buildings in dozens of cities. It said that should be carried out under the surveillance of envoys from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

However, pro-Russian separatists have rejected the deal and refused to budge until the interim government in Kyiv - which ousted the Kremlin-allied President Viktor Yanukovych - steps aside.

Kerry said Russia must follow in the footsteps of Ukraine and appoint a senior diplomat to work with the OSCE mission "to make absolutely clear to the separatists that Russia supports the agreement and wants de-escalation."

The US secretary of state told Lavrov the Ukrainian government had also agreed a broad amnesty bill for separatists who give up buildings and weapons and had suspended its "anti-terrorist operation" against activists for the Easter period.

"He asked that Russia now demonstrate an equal level of commitment to the Geneva agreement in both its rhetoric and its actions," Psaki said.

However Lavrov's version of events was rather different.

Trading blame

In a statement the Russian Foreign Ministry said Lavrov had asked Kerry to "pressure Kyiv to stop hotheads from provoking a bloody conflict and to encourage the Ukrainian authorities to strictly fulfill their obligations."

He also accused the government in Kyiv of an "inability and unwillingness" to rein in an ultranationalist group.

Lavrov was repeating assertions made at a news conference hours earlier in which he accused Ukraine of breaching the terms of the Geneva deal.

He asserted that the Right Sector, was behind a deadly shootout near the eastern city of Slovyansk on Sunday, which left at least three people dead.

"The authorities are doing nothing, not even lifting a finger, to address the causes behind this deep internal crisis in Ukraine," he said.

Ukraine has blamed the shooting on pro-Russian separatists.

Lavrov also criticized Ukraine's interim government for not clearing what he called "illegal" protesters from Maidan, or Independence Square, in Kyiv. Maidan was the hub of pro-Western protests earlier this year which pushed Yanukovych from power.

Biden in Kyiv

The contradictory statements came hours after US Vice President Joe Biden landed in Kyiv, in a clear show of US support for the Ukrainian authorities.

He is scheduled to hold talks with Ukraine's acting prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, among others.

Biden is also expected to announce a package of technical assistance for Ukraine while upholding the threat of further US sanctions against Russia.

"He will call for urgent implementation of the agreement reached in Geneva last week while also making clear ... that there will be mounting costs for Russia if they choose a destabilizing rather than constructive course in the days ahead," a senior administration official told reporters.

The US and EU have both imposed sanctions on a number of Russian and Ukrainian individuals accused of stoking the crisis, although they are yet to directly target Moscow's economy.

ccp/kms (AFP, Reuters)

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