US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) shakes hands with
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov before their meeting
at the Russian Ambassador's residence in Paris.
America's top general in Europe has been sent back early
from a trip to Washington in what the Pentagon has called a
prudent step given Russia's "lack of transparency" about troop
movements across the border with Ukraine.
General Philip Breedlove, who is both NATO's Supreme Allied
Commander Europe and the head of the US military's European
Command, arrived in Europe Saturday evening. He had been due
to testify before Congress this week.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel considered Breedlove's early
return "the prudent thing to do, given the lack of
transparency and intent from Russian leadership about their
military movements across the border," a Pentagon spokesman
The Pentagon announcement came as US Secretary of State John
Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met in Paris
seeking to hammer out the framework of a deal to reduce
tensions over Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.
They aim to develop a proposal conceived by Kerry and Lavrov
at earlier sessions, with Western leaders considering broader
sanctions against Russia that would target vital sectors of
its economy including its mainstay oil and gas industry.
Ideas on the table included a deployment of international
monitors in Ukraine, the withdrawal of Russian forces from
Crimea and the border zone around Ukraine, and the launch of
direct talks between Moscow and the government in Kiev.
"Today, we expect Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov
to continue the discussion they've been having in the
interest of finding concrete ways to de-escalate the
conflict," a senior US State Department official said.
Kerry and Lavrov hoped to build on a phone call on Friday
between presidents Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama, according
to senior US officials, to defuse the worst East-West
confrontation since the Cold War ended two decades ago.
A spokeswoman for European Union foreign policy chief
Catherine Ashton said the EU strongly favoured "meaningful
dialogue" between Ukraine and its old Soviet-era master
"Russian officials have been stating that Moscow has no
intentions beyond Crimea. We expect to see words translated
into deeds, including with regard to the military build-up at
the regions bordering Ukraine," Ashton's spokeswoman said.
The United States and EU have meted out two rounds of
sanctions on Russia, including visa bans and asset freezes
for some of Putin's inner circle, to punish Moscow over its
seizure of Crimea, a Russian-majority Black Sea peninsula,
after mass protests ousted Kiev's pro-Russian president in
"I don't want to say that sanctions are ridiculous and that
we couldn't care less, these are not pleasant things," Lavrov
told Russia's Channel One.
"We find little joy in that, but there are no painful
sensations. We have lived through tougher times."
RUSSIA RAPS WESTERN CURBS ON CONTACT
Lavrov said Western powers had put unofficial restrictions in
place, urging their diplomats in Moscow to boycott meetings
attended by Russian officials and lawmakers on the sanctions
He said Russian diplomats in EU capitals had also been
refused meetings with officials from EU foreign ministries.
Crimeans voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia in a
March 16 referendum dismissed as a sham by Western
governments that say it violated Ukraine's constitution and
was held only after Russian forces seized control of the
The West has threatened tougher sanctions against Russia's
stuttering economy if Moscow invades eastern Ukraine.
The West has refused to recognise Crimea's absorption into
Russia although US officials acknowledge that the takeover of
is not likely to be resolved soon. Instead, talks have homed
in on warnings to Moscow not to go further into Ukraine.
US officials are deeply worried about the massing of what
they estimate are up to 40,000 Russian troops on Ukraine's
border, which is stoking concerns in Washington and elsewhere
that Russia is preparing a wider incursion into Ukraine.
While Moscow has said the buildup is part of normal Russian
exercises only, Obama has described it as out of the ordinary
that could be a precursor to other actions.
Germany is considering offering military support to some
eastern European members of the NATO defence alliance in
response to Russia's seizure of Crimea, news magazine Der
Spiegel reported at the weekend.
The meeting in Paris comes days before a gathering of NATO
foreign ministers in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday that
is likely to focus on Ukraine and Russia's actions.
Lavrov, speaking on Russian television on Saturday, said
Moscow had "no intention" of invading eastern Ukraine and
reinforced a message from Putin that Moscow would settle - at
least for now - for control over Crimea.
Lavrov, added, however that Russia was ready to protect the
rights of Russian speakers, referring to what Moscow sees as
threats to the lives of compatriots in eastern Ukraine.