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Russia Has No Intention Of Sending Troops To Ukraine: Lavrov

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[March 29, 2014]  MOSCOW (Reuters)  Russian said on Saturday it had no intention of sending its armed forces into Ukraine, signaling Moscow wants to ease tensions in the worst East-West standoff since the Cold war.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reinforced a message from President Vladimir Putin that Russia will settle  at least for now  for annexing Crimea, although it has thousands of troops near Ukraine's eastern border.

"We have absolutely no intention of  or interest in  crossing Ukraine's borders," Lavrov told a Russian television channel.

He added, however, that Russia was ready to protect the rights of Russian speakers, referring to what Moscow sees as threats to the lives of compatriots in eastern Ukraine since Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovich was deposed as president.

The West imposed sanctions on Russia, including visa bans for some of Putin's inner circle, after Moscow annexed Crimea following a referendum on union with the Russian Federation which the West said was illegal.

The West has threatened tougher sanctions targeting Russia's stuttering economy if Moscow sends more troops to Ukraine.

In a sign that Putin is ready to ease tensions in the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War, Putin called U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday to discuss a U.S. diplomatic proposal for Ukraine.

The White House said Obama told Putin that Russia must pull back its troops and not move deeper into Ukraine.

The Kremlin said Putin had suggested "examining possible steps the global community can take to help stabilize the situation," and said the foreign ministers of the two countries would discuss this soon.

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The U.N. General Assembly on Thursday passed a non-binding resolution declaring invalid Crimea's Moscow-backed referendum earlier this month on seceding from Ukraine, in a vote that Western nations said highlighted Russia's isolation.

Both Russia and West accused each other of using threats to affect the vote.

(Reporting by Katya Golubkova; editing by Timothy Heritage)

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