Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov tells John Kerry that Ukraine must stop its military operation in southeastern regions of the country as part of efforts to defuse the crisis.
In a telephone conversation with Kerry, Mr Lavrov also urged the United States to use its influence to secure the release of what the Russian Foreign Ministry called leaders of the “protest movement” in southeastern Ukraine – a reference to pro-Russian separatists arrested in Kiev’s “anti-terrorist” operations in the east of the country.
Russia said Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov discussed efforts to resolve the situation involving eight detained OSCE military observers. It said “public structures” controlling parts of southeastern Ukraine had not been properly informed of the observers’ plans to travel there.
On Saturday, pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slaviansk said they were willing to release the OSCE observers in exchange for the detained separatists.
Asked about a prisoner exchange, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, de facto mayor of Slaviansk, told reporters: “The Kiev junta has our fellows and comrades therefore, if there is a possibility, we are ready for an exchange.
“They (members of the observer mission) are in alright condition. One of the soldiers suffers from diabetes, but it is not a serious condition, he is on tablets. There is medicine there is food.
“They were soldiers on our territory without our permission, of course they are prisoners. We won’t know what to do until we determine who they are, what kind of activities, for what purpose they came here.”
Journalists from the Russian media have been allowed into the building where the observers are being held, and showed military identification cards and military insignia they said were taken from the detainees.
That, the separatists said, was proof that they were not observers but were spying for Nato, according to reports in Russian media. It is standard practice for serving military officers to be seconded to OSCE missions.
“It is critical that we use all diplomatic channels to free this team immediately and unhurt,” German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said. Russia’s envoy to the OSCE said Moscow would take all steps to free the observers, Russian news agencies reported.
Meanwhile, G7 leaders have agreed to quickly implement further sanctions against Russian president Vladimir Putin’s “cronies”.
Senior EU diplomats are expected to meet on Monday to discuss the form that new sanctions will take, after G7 leaders said they would “move quickly” to “intensify” pressure on Russia.
In a statement released after a meeting in Seoul, the G7 leaders said Russia had not taken any concrete steps to implement an accord, signed in Geneva, intended to rein in illegal armed groups.
“Instead, it has continued to escalate tensions by increasingly concerning rhetoric and ongoing threatening military manoeuvres on Ukraine’s border,” the statement said.
“We have now agreed that we will move swiftly to impose additional sanctions on Russia.
“We have committed to act urgently to intensify targeted sanctions and measures to increase the costs of Russia’s actions.”
But the statement added: “We underscore that the door remains open to a diplomatic resolution of this crisis.”
The crisis escalated further this week after Ukraine sent troops into Slaviansk, killing up to five of the pro-Russian rebels, in what it said was a response to the kidnapping and torture of a politician found dead last week.
Moscow said those actions violated the Geneva accord. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused authorities in Kiev of waging “war on their own people”.
“This is a bloody crime, and those who pushed the army to do that will pay, I am sure, and will face justice,” Mr Lavrov said.
Russia denies it is to blame for the crisis in eastern Ukraine, where armed pro-Russian separatists have seized control of a number of official buildings and in some cases have declared independence from Kiev.
Moscow blames the new government in Kiev, which it says has persecuted Russian-speaking citizens in Ukraine. Nato has criticised Russia for massing troops on Ukraine’s border.
The new sanction s are expected to target “cronies” of the Russian president, a source close to US officials said. US officials said sanctions would target individuals and companies in specific economic sectors, such as energy and banking.
Meanwhile, the EU is expected to name 15 individuals to be placed under sanctions and would focus on those it considers responsible for the Ukraine unrest.