U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has expressed “grave concern” to his Russian counterpart about a "sharp rise" in separatist attacks in eastern Ukraine.
A senior State Department official told reporters in Washington on Thursday that in a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Kerry urged "an immediate cease-fire" and called for "full implementation" of the cease-fire agreement reached between Ukraine's government and Russia-backed separatists in Minsk, Belarus, this year.
More than 6,500 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine since the fighting erupted in April 2014, and there has been another spike in violence in recent days. The two sides regularly accuse each other of violating the cease-fire agreement.
Washington and its European allies accuse Moscow of supporting the separatists, including with Russian troops. Russia denies the charge, claiming the Russians fighting with the separatists in Ukraine are volunteers.
On Wednesday, outgoing U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno said Russia poses the "most dangerous" threat to the United States because of its "sophisticated" operations in Ukraine.
Odierno’s statement echoed comments made last month by U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman General Joseph Dunford before the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee.
In his phone conversation with Lavrov on Thursday, Kerry also expressed concern about a visit to Moscow last month by General Qassem Suleimani, commander of the elite Quds force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards.
Suleimani visited Russia despite being subject to U.N.-backed international sanctions, including a 2007 travel ban imposed on several Iranian officials because of their alleged involvement in Iran's nuclear or ballistic missile programs. The sanctions against Suleimani and other Iranian officials remain in effect despite the recent nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.