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US Secretary of State John Kerry in Russia to meet Vladimir Putin

The US Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Russia's Sochi to hold talks with President Vladimir Putin. The meeting is the first visit by a US official to Russia after violence erupted in Ukraine last year.

Kerry landed in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Tuesday, in the highest-level trip to Russia by a US official since Kerry's visit to Moscow in May 2013. Kerry was to lay a wreath at a World War II memorial before his meetings with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and President Putin.

"This trip is part of our ongoing effort to maintain direct lines of communication with senior Russian officials to ensure US views are clearly conveyed," US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement. Kerry would meet President Putin, who is spending a week at his summer resort in Sochi by the Black Sea and the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The US' initiative was being seen as an attempt to improve relations between the two countries after NATO members imposed sanctions on Moscow for its

alleged involvement in instigating anti-Kyiv rebels.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the visit as "extremely positive," adding that "Russia never initiated the freeze in relations and we are always open for displays of political will for a broader dialogue."

No easing of sanctions expected

Relations between Washington and Moscow nosedived after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in March 2014, leading to a long-drawn conflict between Kyiv and pro-Russian rebels that ended in a

shaky ceasefire in February this year.

US and European countries accused the Kremlin of supporting pro-Russian rebels in Kyiv's east and failing to withdraw heavy equipment such as tanks, artillery and air defense systems from the Ukrainian border. Russia denies the accusations.

Kerry's visit to Russia would "serve the normalization of bilateral ties on which global stability depends to a large extent," Moscow's foreign ministry said, adding that western sanctions had not affected US companies' interest in doing business with Russia. "Even under pressure from the White House, American business is in no rush to leave our market," the ministry statement continued.

Kerry would also discuss the crisis in Syria, where Putin backed President Bashar al-Assad, while the US wanted a political transition that would put an end to his rule. The US was also expected to raise its concerns related to the Iran nuclear deal and fighting in Yemen and Libya.

mg/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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