U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on Russia Sunday to pull back thousands of troops massed along the Ukraine border, saying those forces are creating a "climate of fear" inside Ukraine that does not support diplomatic dialogue.
Kerry spoke to reporters late Sunday, after four hours of talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Paris.
The U.S. top diplomat said both Moscow and Washington are in agreement on the right of Ukrainians to decide their own future. He also said both sides made suggestions on how to de-escalate the crisis that was spawned by Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.
But Kerry also stressed that he made clear to Lavrov that "the United States still considers the Russian actions to be illegal and illegitimate.''
At a separate news conference, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said he has "agreed to work with the Ukrainian government and people to achieve progress in rights of minorities and linguistic rights."
Kerry said he is returning to Washington to confer with President Barack Obama and that more bilateral talks will take place in the near future. But he emphasized that no decisions on Ukraine's future will be made without the input of the Kyiv government.
Moscow has repeatedly sought to assure the West that it has no plans to send its forces into Ukraine, but Lavrov did not offer further comment on the military presence near the eastern and southern Ukraine borders. Nor did he offer further direct comment on proposals for direct talks between Moscow and Kyiv.
U.S. officials estimate Russia has massed 40,000 troops close to Ukraine's borders, while Kyiv says the Russian buildup is closer to 100,000 military personnel.
Ukraine's immediate neighbors - former Soviet republics that gained independence with the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union - have condemned the Crimean annexation as well as the mounting pressure on Kyiv from the Russian troop presence.
The United Nations also has condemned the annexation, while the United States and its European allies have begun imposing economic sanctions against Moscow.
Relations between Russia and Ukraine plummeted nearly a month ago, when Russian forces moved into Crimea. A short-notice referendum quickly followed, resulting in a vote declaring the peninsula’s secession from Ukraine and move toward integration with Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian parliament subsequently annexed Crimea, making it part of the Russian Federation.