John Kerry to meet Putin in Russia

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US Secretary of State John Kerry is to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin during his first visit to Russia since the Ukraine crisis began in early 2014.

Mr Putin’s spokesman called the visit a “positive step” and said the Russian leader was prepared for “extensive” discussions at the meeting in Sochi.

Mr Kerry is also meeting his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

The West accuses Russia of arming rebels in eastern Ukraine and sending troops there – charges Moscow denies.

More than 6,000 people have been killed since fighting began in April 2014 between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed rebels in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The conflict followed Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine.

‘Broader dialogue’

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Mr Kerry’s trip was “part of our ongoing effort to maintain direct lines of communication with senior Russian officials and to ensure US views are clearly conveyed”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov praised Mr Kerry’s decision to travel to Russia, adding: “We are always open to showing a political will for a broader dialogue.

“Through dialogue, it is possible to look for paths to a certain normalisation, to a closer co-ordination in decisions.”

He said Russia was prepared to discuss international “hot spots” as well as bilateral relations, and that the issue of Western sanctions against Russia would not be raised by the Russian side.

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