MOSCOW — Russia has no intention of sending its armed forces into Ukraine although it is ready to protect the rights of Russian speakers in the former Soviet republic, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview on Saturday.
The comments came as Lavrov had a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that produced quick plans for a meeting in Paris on Monday.
"We have absolutely no intention of — or interest in — crossing Ukraine's borders," Lavrov told a Russian television channel. Russia has forces in Crimea, which it has annexed from Ukraine, and has thousands of military close to the border with eastern Ukraine, where there are many Russian speakers.
On Saturday, when he was half way home from Saudi Arabia, Kerry abruptly changed course to stay in Europe for talks on Ukraine.
Flying from Riyadh to Shannon, Ireland, for a refueling stop, Kerry decided to turn his plane around and travel to Paris for a meeting with Lavrov, likely on Monday. Kerry had already been due to return to Europe on Tuesday for a meeting with NATO foreign ministers.
Kerry was in Riyadh, as well as Rome and The Hague, with President Barack Obama this week, but was traveling on his own plane. Kerry had made a side trip to Jordan to work on salvaging foundering Mideast peace talks while Obama visited Brussels.
Lavrov and Kerry discussed Ukraine in a phone call on Saturday as well as the timing of further contact, Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said the call was initiated by the United States and followed Russian President Vladimir Putin's call to U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday to discuss a U.S. diplomatic proposal for Ukraine.
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