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Kerry and Putin set to discuss Ukraine and Syria conflicts

US Secretary of State John Kerry is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Russia today to discuss the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

John Kerry will meet with Vladimir Putin Credit: Romuald Meigneux/Pool/ABACAPRESS.COM

Kerry is reportedly planning to try to gauge Putin's willingness to push pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine to comply with the current fragile ceasefire and also to try and establish how supportive Russia are towards Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The US State department have described Kerry's trip to Sochi as part of an "ongoing effort to maintain direct lines of communication with senior Russian officials".

Kerry is also expected to lay a wreath at a World War II memorial during his visit before departing for a Nato meeting in Turkey later in the day.


US pledges extra $17.7m humanitarian aid to Ukraine

America has pledged an additional $17.7 million to provide the Ukrainian government with aid for essentials such as food, shelter and water.

Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko about reform efforts in the country today.

A statement from the White House said: "The vice president welcomed the appointment of a new head of the anti-corruption bureau and encouraged the further implementation of rule of law reforms, including anti-trust measures and judicial reform."

Ukraine: President orders investigation into murders of prominent pro-Russians

File photo of Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko Credit: Reuters

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has ordered a “quick and transparent” investigation has been ordered into the murders of a pro-Russian journalist and a former politician loyal to the ousted former leader Viktor Yanukovich.

Oles Buzina, 45, was known for his pro-Russian opinion pieces published in Ukraine's Sevodnya daily newspaper, and was shot dead by two masked gunmen in Kiev.

Ex-member of parliament for Yanukovich's discredited Party of Regions, Oleh Kalashnikov, was killed in a similar attack as he entered his home the day before.

In an official statement, President Poroshenko said; “Their nature and political import are clear - this is a deliberate act, which plays into the hands of our enemies.”

Foreign ministers agree withdrawal of heavy weapons from eastern Ukraine

A number of foreign ministers from Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine agreed to push ahead with the withdrawal of heavy weapons from eastern Ukraine where violence has escalated after tough talks in Berlin.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Credit: PA

"We agreed today not only to continue with the withdrawal of heavy weapons but also to include other categories of weapons in the withdrawal," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters after the talks had finished, adding weapons to be withdrawn would now include tanks.

"Nothing is easy in the Ukraine crisis, this is not new. During these talks today the differences of opinion between Kiev and Moscow also became clear once again," he said, detailing an agreement between ministers at the talks.


Ukraine signs new deal to buy Russian gas

The Ukrainian energy ministry has said in a statement that Ukraine has signed a new agreement to buy Russian gas over the next three months at $248 per thousand cubic metres.

The agreement extended all the other terms of the 'winter package' which has just lapsed between Ukraine's state gas concern Naftogaz and Russia's gas giant Gazprom, the statement said.

The agreement represented a "victory" for an economic approach to relations between Naftogaz and Gazprom over a political one, Energy Minister Volodymyr Demchyshyn was quoted as saying on the energy ministry's website.

Biden and Poroshenko agree over Russian sanctions

US Vice President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko have agreed that sanctions against Russia must be tied to the full implementation of the Minsk peace plan, the White House said.

US Vice President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Credit: Andreas Gebert/DPA/PA Images

"As long as Russia continues to fuel violence and instability in Ukraine, the international community must be prepared to increase the costs to Russia for pursuing such actions," a statement reads.

Biden also welcomed the decision by the Ukrainian parliament to allow special status for rebel-controlled eastern regions and grant them limited self-rule.

Biden and Poroshenko made the agreement in a telephone call.

EU concern over military build up in the Crimea

The European Union has voiced deep concern at continuous military build-up and deterioration of human rights situation in the Crimea region of Ukraine.

The Crimea region of Ukraine. Credit: Google Maps

"The European Union does not recognise and continues to condemn this act of violation of international law," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement marking the anniversary of Russia's annexation off the Ukrainian region. She said the EU would remain committed to its policy of not recognising the annexation, including through sanctions.

"The EU reaffirms its deep concern at the continuous military build-up and deterioration of the human rights situation in the Crimean peninsula, including the denial of free speech and the persecution of persons belonging to minorities," she said.

Hammond: Relations with Russia will be 'prickly' for years

The relationship between Russia and the UK could be "prickly" for many years to come as the crisis in Ukraine continues, the Foreign Secretary has warned.

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr show, Philip Hammond said Britain was prepared to escalate sanctions against Moscow if the Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine did not abide by the terms of the latest ceasefire.

Philip Hammond said diplomatic relations could be 'prickly' for years to come Credit: PA

He said under the rule of President Vladimir Putin, Russia had moved from being a partner of the West to viewing Europe as its "adversary" - and said he did not believe there was a "military solution" to the situation in Ukraine.

We have all made clear that if there is a big assault, for example on Mariupol, that will be responded to with a significant increase in the economic pressure on Russia from the EU.

Russia has decided that it wants to be in a strategic competition with the West, with Europe. It doesn't any longer see us as partners, it sees us as competitors or even adversaries and that means that we are going to have a difficult, prickly relationship with Russia probably for some time to come.

We don't think there can be a military resolution to this crisis. The disparity between the size of the Ukrainian armed forces and the Russian armed forces doesn't make that a sensible way to go.

We have to insist that the rules-based system which says very clearly that you can't change international boundaries by force, is protected.

– Philip Hammond
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