Russia's Lavrov last to arrive for crunch Ukraine talks

AFP , Thursday 17 Apr 2014

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was the last to arrive at a Geneva hotel Thursday where he is due to hold high-stake talks on the Ukraine crisis with counterparts from Kiev, Washington and Brussels.

He will sit down at the negotiating table with Ukraine's interim Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya, US Secretary of State John Kerry and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton -- the latter two having already held bilateral talks.

The much-anticipated four-way negotiations aim to ease the crisis in Ukraine, where scores of pro-Russia separatists Kiev says are backed by Moscow have taken control of parts of the country's southeastern industrial heartland and show no signs of budging. Russia denies the charges.

Further complicating matters, Ukrainian troops killed three of these militants in the southeastern port city of Mariupol early Thursday, in what could plunge Ukraine further into turmoil.

Russia, which has tens of thousands of troops stationed on its border with Ukraine, has warned Kiev not to use force against pro-Kremlin militants and has said it reserves the right to protect the many Russian speakers there.

Lavrov is due to meet Kerry in a quick bilateral meeting before the four-way talks begin, and Washington's top diplomat will brief the press later in the afternoon.

In the meantime, a scuffle outside the InterContinental Hotel where the talks are taking place caused a brief commotion as at least one protester from the Femen feminist group was held to the ground by police.

Femen members have protested in the past against Russia's incursion into Ukraine, where it has already annexed the Crimean peninsula, asking for tougher US and EU action against Moscow.

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