Sochi, Russia, May 12: Russia vowed today it was ready to work with the United States on a host of burning issues but insisted it would not bow to "coercion," as President Vladimir Putin hosted top US diplomat John Kerry.
On the highest-level US visit to Russia since the conflict in Ukraine erupted in late 2013, Putin met with Kerry at his summer residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. After over four hours of talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Kerry and Putin held another four hours of talks.
"Russia is ready for constructive cooperation with the United States both in the bilateral sphere and the international arena where our countries have special responsibility for global security and stability," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement after the Lavrov talks.
"However cooperation is only possible on an honest and equal basis, without attempts to dictate and coerce." The Ukraine crisis is also likely to top the agenda at NATO foreign ministers talks tomorrow in Antalya, Turkey -- Kerry's next destination after Sochi. For his part, Kerry's staff tweeted on his personal account that the talks with Putin were "frank" and "productive".
US officials said Kerry wanted to press Putin to finally implement a shaky ceasefire in Ukraine, and aimed to gauge whether Moscow's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may be on the wane as the rebels appear to be gaining the upper hand in the four-year civil war.
Kerry was also set to discuss Yemen and Libya and brief Putin on the negotiations on curtailing Iran's nuclear programme. He was accompanied by chief US negotiator Wendy Sherman who will travel to Vienna tomorrow for a new round of Iran talks. Ties between Moscow and Washington were shredded when Russia seized the southern Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in early 2014 and buttressed separatists in eastern Ukraine.