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    Kerry to Russian Envoy: Troops Near Ukraine Creating 'Climate of Fear'

    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 early Monday, after four hours of talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Paris.

    The U.S. 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.

    At a separate news conference, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov focused on decentralizing power in Ukraine to protect minorities. Moscow used the issue of alleged minority rights violations against Crimea's largely Russian-speaking population to justify annexing the peninsula.



    Lavrov said all of Ukraine should have an equal voice in protecting political, economic and cultural traditions in different parts of the country.

    For his part, Kerry said he will confer with President Barack Obama on Sunday's developments 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 to declare independence from Ukraine in favor of joining the Russian Federation.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian parliament subsequently annexed Crimea, making it a separate part of the Russian state.

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