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Top US diplomat says Russia must reduce tensions in eastern Ukraine

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called on Russia to end the violence in eastern Ukraine and says that American and European sanctions would remain in place until Moscow reversed policy in the region.

In a joint press conference on Sunday with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev, Tillerson said Washington’s primary goal is restoring Ukraine’s “integrity and sovereignty.”

“It is necessary for Russia to take the first steps to de-escalate the situation in the eastern part of Ukraine,” Tillerson told reporters. “This is necessary for us to make any movement.”

The top US diplomat also said Washington would explore ways of changing the status quo in the Ukraine crisis, and said Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election has prevented better ties with Moscow.

His surprisingly blunt language came just two days after presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin had their first face-to-face meeting during the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.

Ukraine’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk have witnessed deadly clashes between pro-Russia forces and the Ukrainian army since Kiev launched military operations in April 2014 to crush pro-Moscow protests there.

The government in Kiev and pro-Russian forces signed a ceasefire agreement in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, in September 2014. The warring sides also inked another truce deal, dubbed Minsk II, in February 2015 under the supervision of Germany, France and Russia.

Russia accuses Ukraine of violating the ceasefire deals.

The Ukraine crisis has left almost 10,000 people dead and over 23,000 others injured, according to the latest figures provided by the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.

“We do call on Russia to honor its commitments that were made under the Minsk accords and to exercise influence over the separatists in the region that they have complete control over,” Tillerson said.

“The US and EU sanctions on Russia will remain in place until Moscow reverses the actions that triggered these particular sanctions.”

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