Ukraine - biggest obstacle to normal Russian Federation ties, says Tillerson

Sergei Fadeichev  TASS

The United States will maintain sanctions against Russian Federation until it returns full control of Crimea to Ukraine, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says that despite a certain amount of progress being made, there is still instability in some parts of the Balkans.

"And Russia's continued use of hybrid warfare seeks to undermine Western institutions, and this stands as a significant obstacle to normalizing our relations, as well".

After long resisting the idea, Russia has suggested deploying a United Nations peacekeeping force to help end the war between Ukraine's government and Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country that has killed over 10,000 people since 2014.

The UN peacekeeping force was not on the official agenda for the two-day OSCE gathering in Vienna, which involved some 40 foreign ministers, but was expected to be a big topic on the sidelines.

In principle, both Moscow and Washington have now expressed support for the idea of a United Nations peacekeeping mission to end the war between Kiev's government forces and Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country.

"We should be clear about the source of this violence", Tillerson said about ceasefire violations that the security agency has observed. "We call on Russian Federation and its proxies to end its harassment, intimidation and its attacks on the OSCE special monitoring mission".

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But Russia envisions a limited force to simply protect the existing 600-strong group of unarmed OSCE observers, who are struggling to monitor a shaky ceasefire in a conflict that has already left 10,000 dead since 2014.

"We will continue to work with Russian Federation to see if we could not agree a peacekeeping force that could enter Ukraine (and) reduce the violence", Tillerson told the news conference.

"We can have differences in other arenas, in Syria, we can have differences in other areas", he said. "You don't solve it in one meeting".

These are the key steps, the U.S. official said.

"We've reached an absolute low point regarding confidence between the main players", the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's secretary general Thomas Greminger told reporters.

The U.S. has decried Moscow's military involvement in eastern Ukraine, where it has backed pro-Russia separatists, and its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.