Zee Media Bureau
Kiev: US Secretary of State John Kerry is due to hold talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday in a bid to calm tensions over the Ukraine crisis, the BBC reported.
The development came a day after Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said that ministerial level consultations had started with Russia to de-escalate the crisis.
Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday made a robust defence of his country`s actions in Ukraine`s Crimea.
Putin said Russia would use force in Ukraine only as a last resort, amid fears that the tensions between the two neighbours could escalate to the level of war pounding world markets.
Despite the assurance, tensions remained high and Russian forces fired warning shots when confronted with Ukrainian servicemen at an air base.
Reports also said that Russian Navy ships had blockaded the strait separating the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula from Russia.
Putin yesterday held his first news conference since the Ukrainian crisis started and said his country reserved the right to use all options to protect Russian-speaking people who were living in "terror" in Ukraine. He, however, added that there was no need to use force for now.
Putin denied the Russian armed forces were directly engaged in the bloodless seizure of Crimea, saying the uniformed troops without national insignia were "local self-defence forces".
"As for bringing in forces, for now there is no such need, but such a possibility exists," he said. "What could serve as a reason to use military force? It would naturally be the last resort. Absolutely the last."
Putin said there had been an unconstitutional coup in Ukraine, and Yanukovich, who fled to Russia last week, was still the legitimate leader. No Ukrainian government elected "under such terror as we see now" would be legitimate, he said.
In Washington, US President Barack Obama acknowledged that Russia had legitimate interests in Ukraine but said that did not give Putin the right to intervene militarily.
"President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations," Obama said. "But I don`t think that`s fooling anybody.”
Obama yesterday also held hour-long consultations over telephone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The White House said the two leaders expressed their grave concern over Russia`s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity and agreed on the importance of de-escalating the situation, including through the deployment of international observers and human rights monitors, and of initiating direct talks between Russia and Ukraine.
"They also discussed the need to continue to support the government of Ukraine as it works to stabilise its economy and makes preparations for elections in May. The leaders agreed to stay in close contact in the days ahead," the White House said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, on his first visit to Kiev since the overthrow of Russian-backed President Victor Yanukovich, accused Moscow of seeking a pretext to invade more of the country.
He met Ukraine`s interim leaders and announced a $1 billion economic package and technical assistance for the new government.
The European Commission also offered an aid package reportedly worth more than one billion euros, as cash-strapped Ukraine says it needs 25 billion euros ($35 billion) over two years.
Kerry said the United States was not seeking a confrontation and would prefer to see the situation managed through international institutions such as the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE.
Amid the tensions, Russia carried out a successful test launch of an "advanced" intercontinental ballistic missile, state news agencies reported. The US was informed of the test earlier this week, a US defence official said.
Later today, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will visit Kiev ahead of an EU emergency summit on Ukraine on Thursday.
Also today, Nato and Russia will hold talks in Brussels.
(With agency inputs)