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May 18, 1:55 PM EDT

US's Nuland meets with Russians to back Ukraine cease-fire



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MOSCOW (AP) -- The United States wants to help solidify a shaky cease-fire and support efforts to resolve political and humanitarian concerns in Ukraine's rebellious east, a top U.S. diplomat said Monday after meeting with Russian counterparts.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland also said there are no indications that the Ukrainian government aims to resume offensives against the separatists - a claim that Russian foreign minister Grigory Karasin found unconvincing.

Nuland's brief comments came after a meeting with Karasin and fellow deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov. There was no sign of any imminent breakthrough on issues that have sent Washington-Moscow relations to a post-Cold War low.

While underlying the resentment his country holds for the United States over its criticisms and sanctions connected to the Ukraine crisis, Ryabkov said he did not rule out an increasing level of U.S.-Russian contacts.

"The situation in our bilateral relations is generally depressing and we blame Washington for that," he was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Nuland said her talks, together with last week's meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, allow for "a more direct channel on Ukraine issues with the Russian Federation."

Her visit to Moscow followed a trip to the Ukrainian capital and she said "there is no indication from our own information or from my consultations in Kiev that anybody on the Ukrainian side, anybody in the leadership ... has any intentions of launching new hostilities."

Karasin took issue with that.

"This will have to be tested in real life. At this point, one has the impression that preparations for this kind of operation is in progress," he told the state news agency Tass.

Fighting between government forces and Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine has subsided since an agreement on a cease-fire and a pullback of heavy weapons was reached in February in the Belarusian capital Minsk. However, clashes continue and concern is high over the flashpoint of Shyrokyne, which is near the strategic port city of Mariupol that Ukraine fears the rebels want to seize in order to establish a land corridor between mainland Russia and the Russia-annexed Crimean peninsula.

The U.S. was not a party to the Minsk agreement, but Nuland said "we particularly dug in on how the United States might be able to support the process of Minsk implementation."

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