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Russian FM Sees No Quick Fix to US Ties

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov delivers a public lecture at the Foreign Ministry's headquarters in Moscow Oct. 20, 2014.

A low point has been reached in relations between Russia and the United States since the start of the Ukraine crisis, with no remedy in sight, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday.

Criticizing U.S. foreign policy at a public lecture at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow, Lavrov expressed hope that ties would start improving.

“There is always a temptation to find a metaphor, a word - for instance people ask me about a second Cold War, or about a return to the old Cold War. Of course, it is not a Cold War,” Lavrov said but added that the new chill in relations will be “a lengthy one.”

Ties between Moscow and Washington have soured since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in March as well as over its involvement in a separatist conflict in Ukraine’s east, a charge Moscow denies.

The United States, EU countries and several others have imposed sanctions on Moscow over the crisis in Ukraine.

Washington and Moscow also differ on a range of other issues, from human rights to arms control.

Did Putin offer to split Ukraine with Poland?

As far back as 2008, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed to then Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk that they divide Ukraine between themselves, Poland's parliamentary speaker Radoslaw Sikorski said in an interview published by the U.S. Politico website.

Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed to Poland's then leader that they divide Ukraine between themselves as far back as 2008, Poland's parliamentary speaker Radoslaw Sikorski said in an interview published by the U.S. Politico website.

Putin made the offer during Tusk’s visit to Moscow in 2008, said Sikorski, who as foreign minister at the time accompanied Tusk on the trip.

“He wanted us to become participants in this partition of Ukraine.... This was one of the first things that Putin said to my prime minister…,” Sikorski was quoted as saying in the interview dated October 19.

“[Putin] went on to say Ukraine is an artificial country and that Lwow is a Polish city and why don't we just sort it out together,” Sikorski added.

Before World War Two, Poland's territory included parts of today's western Ukraine, including some major cities such as Lwow, known as Lviv in Ukraine.

According to Sikorski, Tusk did not reply to Putin's offer.

Progress on Russia-Ukraine gas deal

Meanwhile, Moscow and Kyiv seem to have made some progress on resolving a dispute in which Russia halted gas supplies to Ukraine in June after failing to secure a new peice and a deal on unpaid bills.

Progress on the issue was reported Friday at a meeting in Milan between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, but obstacles remain.

Energy ministers from both countries will meet in Brussels on Tuesday in an effort to find common ground on calculating Kyiv's huge debt and working out a schedule of payments.

Putin said on Friday Ukraine's debt for Russian gas supplies stood at $4.5 billion, down from the $5.3 billion previously demanded by Gazprom.

European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger will mediate at Tuesday's talks.

The EU has vested interest in a speedy resolution of the issue as half of the gas it buys from Russia is pumped through Ukrainian pipelines.

Pressure to reach an agreement before winter sets in is also mounting on Kyiv.

Donetsk explosion

Meanwhile, a powerful explosion near a factory rocked the rebel-held city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine on Monday, breaking windows several kilometers away.

There are conflicting reports over whether the blast occurred at a munitions or chemical plant. There has been no immediate word of any casualties.

Twitter user @Konyahin_ has circulated the following image of the blast (its authenticity cannot be independently confirmed):

The blast around 0900 GMT sent fire and a column of smoke high into the sky to the northeast of the city, which is a stronghold for pro-Russian separatists fighting government forces.

A Ukrainian military spokesman denied the explosion was caused by a anything fired by government troops, saying Kyiv's forces had nothing to do with the incident.

Some material for this report came from Reuters.

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