Crimea crisis: Russia and Ukraine hold first meeting

Russia's foreign ministry released this image of Sergei Lavrov meeting with Ukraine's Andriy Deshchytsia Russia's foreign ministry released this image of Sergei Lavrov meeting Ukraine's Andriy Deshchytsia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has held talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Andriy Deshchytsia, for the first time since Russia's move into Crimea triggered a diplomatic crisis.

Mr Lavrov says Russia is unfazed by the prospect of being expelled from the G8.

Other members of the group of industrialised countries have agreed not to hold a planned summit in Russia.

The move comes as Ukrainian troops are leaving Crimea after Russian forces seized military bases in the region.

Earlier this month, Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine after a referendum considered illegal by Kiev and the West.

'No great tragedy'

Mr Lavrov met Mr Deshchytsia, Ukraine's interim foreign minister, on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in The Hague on Monday.

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What if shots are exchanged and lives lost? Will Putin then simply be reacting to the pace of events on the ground? Or will Moscow actually have helped to orchestrate those events in the first place?”

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"We set forth our vision to establish good national dialogue taking into account all residents of Ukraine," Mr Lavrov told a news conference.

He also said he saw "no great tragedy" if Moscow was expelled from the G8 group of leading nations over its annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

"If our Western partners think that this format has outlived itself, then so be it. At the very least, we are not trying to cling on to this format," he told reporters.

The remaining members of the body, who also met on the sidelines of the nuclear summit, agreed that the planned G8 summit in Russia in June would be called off because of Russia's aggression toward Ukraine.

Instead they will meet as the G7 in Brussels at about the same time.

US Secretary of State John Kerry also met Mr Lavrov on Monday and expressed "strong concern" about the massing of Russian forces on the Ukrainian border, Reuters quoted a senior US state department official as saying.

A Ukrainian marine carries his belongings as he leaves his military unit, Ukraine's only marine battalion, in the eastern Crimean port city of Feodosiya on 24 March 2014. Ukrainian soldiers left a naval base at Feodosia - the last military base Ukraine held in the region - on Monday
A member of a pro-Russian self defence unit gestures as he drives past the Ukrainian naval landing vessel Konstantin Olshansky in Donuzlav bay in Crimea on 24 March 2014 Russian forces are reported to have stormed a Ukrainian naval ship blockaded in Lake Donuzlav, Crimea
G7 world leaders on the sidelines of the nuclear security Summit in The Hague on 24 March 2014 Leaders from the G7 group of industrialised nations met to discuss a collective response to the crisis in Ukraine

Several G8 members have also called for Russia's membership of the group to be suspended.

Meanwhile, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has denied the authenticity of a taped conversation in which she allegedly called for Russia to be turned into "scorched earth" and for ethnic Russians in Ukraine to be killed.

Ms Tymoshenko said the recording, which has featured prominently on Russian news reports, was produced by Russia's security services.

She admitted speaking by telephone with Nestor Shufrych, a member of Ukraine's parliament, but she said her words had been edited to discredit her.

Ships stormed

In the recording, Ms Tymoshenko is allegedly heard saying Ukrainians should take up arms to "smash" Russia and its President Vladimir Putin.

Ms Tymoshenko was released from prison in February after a controversial verdict on her actions as prime minister.

The BBC's Mark Lowen reports from the last police base in Crimea controlled by Ukraine

Ukraine's interim President Olexander Turchynov said he ordered the military pullout from Crimea on Monday morning because of "Russian threats to the lives of military staff and their families".

His announcement came shortly after Russian forces seized a naval base at Feodosia - the last military base under Ukrainian control in the region. It was the third such takeover in 48 hours.

Russian forces also reportedly stormed a Ukrainian naval ship blockaded in Lake Donuzlav, in western Crimea, on Monday.

Russia has said it had acted to protect its "compatriots" in Crimea from "fascists" moving in from mainland Ukraine.

The US and EU have responded to the annexation with a series of sanctions targeting those individuals, including senior officials, accused of involvement in the move.

Moscow's annexation of Crimea on 16 March came after protesters overthrew pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych in February.

It followed months of street protests sparked by Mr Yanukovych's decision to reject a planned EU trade deal in favour of closer ties with Moscow.

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