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Kerry, Lavrov hold “frank discussions” over Ukraine

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, and the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, have met in Switzerland to try to shore-up a shaky two-week old ceasefire in Ukraine.

Kerry said Monday’s talks in Geneva involved frank discussions on Ukraine, coming less than a week after he accused Moscow of lying about its involvement in the conflict, which has claimed 6,000 lives.

Kerry tweeted a picture of himself with Lavrov following the meeting at a UN human rights panel, which appeared to show both men with strained expressions.

Lavrov and Kerry spoke for roughly 80 minutes, according to the US State Department, which did not immediately provide details of the discussions.

Kerry was expected to warn his Russian counterpart that the US and EU were already working on further sanctions – on top of those already imposed on Moscow – if it did not stick to the ceasefire deal, American officials said. In congressional testimony last week, Kerry said further US sanctions had already been prepared and suggested they could be implemented soon.

Kerry was also expected to press Lavrov to ensure that Moscow carries out a credible investigation into the killing of the Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov. Kerry and other US and western officials have called on Russia to conduct a prompt, thorough, transparent and credible investigation into the murder. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has said he will take personal charge of the investigation.

Speaking before Kerry at the Geneva talks, Lavrov told the main UN human rights forum that Nemtsov’s murder was a heinous crime and that Putin was leading an investigation to the bring perpetrators to justice.

Lavrov also called on Ukraine to distance itself from what he called extremists in the east and pursue a course towards peace. He said tangible progress had been achieved in implementing measures agreed in Minsk last month and that the ceasefire between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia separatists was being consolidated.

But he urged the Kiev government to lift what he described as a de facto blockade of the Donbass region, restore economic ties, pay social benefits, banking services and freedom of movement from Donbass to other parts of Ukraine.

Security officials in Kiev said on Sunday that no Ukrainian soldiers had been killed over the past 24 hours. Both sides have also begun to pull back heavy weaponry from the frontline, with rebels claiming they would complete the pullout by the end of the weekend.

Monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have reported weapons movements on both sides but said it was too early to confirm a full pullback.

Talks between Kiev and Moscow were also scheduled to start in Brussels to resolve a gas dispute that threatens deliveries to Europe, after Russia began direct supplies to parts of separatist-held eastern Ukraine.

In its latest report, the UN painted a bleak picture of developments in Ukraine.

“More than 6,000 lives have now been lost in less than a year due to the fighting in eastern Ukraine,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, in a statement released with the report (its ninth on Ukraine).

The report details how the conflict is affecting civilians, including arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearances, committed mainly by armed groups but also in some cases by Ukrainian law enforcement agencies.

Conflict and dire living conditions have forced many people to flee, and by mid-February, at least a million people had been registered as internally displaced.

“Many have been trapped in conflict zones, forced to shelter in basements, with hardly any drinking water, food, heating, electricity or basic medical supplies,” Zeid said.

Source: The Guardian

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