Russia said on Saturday it had “no intention” of invading eastern Ukraine, responding to Western warnings over a military buildup on the border following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
The comments by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were followed by news that he would meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris on Sunday, as both sides moved to ease tensions in the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War.
Speaking on Russian television, Lavrov reinforced a message from President Vladimir Putin that Russia would settle – at least for now – for control over Crimea despite massing thousands of troops near Ukraine’s eastern border.
(Read more: Putin calls Obama to discuss US proposal on Ukraine: White House)
“We have absolutely no intention of – or interest in – crossing Ukraine’s borders,” Lavrov said.
Putin called U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday to discuss a U.S. diplomatic proposal, with the West alarmed at the threat to Ukraine’s eastern flank from what U.S. officials say may be more than 40,000 Russian soldiers.
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 since Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovich was deposed as president in February.
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