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Kerry talks to Lavrov, urges Russia to stop supporting Ukraine rebels

US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Russia to stop supporting Ukrainian separatists as he talked by phone with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Saturday, a day after postponing the call.

KINSHASA: US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Russia to stop supporting Ukrainian separatists as he talked by phone with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Saturday, a day after postponing the call.

Hailing the release of OSCE observers by pro-Russian rebels in the eastern Ukrainian flashpoint town of Slavyansk, Kerry said: "It's a step. But there are many other steps that have to be taken in order to be able to de-escalate the situation."

In his phone call with Lavrov, Kerry said he reiterated "that it is important for Russia to withdraw support for the separatists and to assist in removing people from the buildings and beginning to de-escalate the situation."

He also warned that "if those supported by Russia continue to interfere with the election, regrettably there will have to be different sanctions including the possibility or the reality of sector sanctions", referring to the Ukrainian presidential poll set for May 25.

"But foreign minister Lavrov and I did talk about how to proceed and perhaps how to find a way forward here. We both will be in touch."

Lavrov also on Saturday asked Kerry to press Ukraine to halt its military operation in the east of the ex-Soviet country, his ministry said.

"The minister called on the United States to use all of its influence to force the Kiev regime, which it looks out after and which has declared a war against its own people, to immediately halt military operations in the southeast, pull back its troops and free protesters," the foreign ministry said.

And Lavrov, who also spoke with his Swiss counterpart and current OSCE chairman Didier Burkhalter, pushed for a greater OSCE role in mediating the crisis in Ukraine, the ministry said.

"Sergei Lavrov strongly called for the use of the OSCE potential to influence Kiev with a view to cancelling a military operation against the population of Ukraine's southeastern regions," the ministry said in another statement.

"Lavrov stressed that a reprisal operation in the southeast of Ukraine is pushing the country towards a fratricidal conflict," the ministry said after the top diplomat's talks with Kerry.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier on Saturday that Russia could not resolve the crisis alone and noted that it no longer had influence over rebels in the restive east.

On Friday, Kerry had postponed a scheduled phone call with his Russian counterpart, according to a Moscow diplomatic source quoted by Russian news agencies.

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