Ukraine crisis: Kerry says meetings agreed to continue talks with Russia, Ukraine

PARIS (AFP) - US Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that "intense discussions" with Russia and Ukraine would continue in the coming days in the hope of securing a de-escalation of current tensions between them.

"We initiated a process today that we hope will eventually lead to de-escalation," Mr Kerry told reporters after a day of diplomatic negotiations in Paris ended with Russia refusing to bow to Western demands for direct talks with the new Ukraine government.

Mr Kerry said he would continue talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Rome on Thursday, where both will be for a meeting on Libya.

Mr Kerry added: "I will be in touch with the foreign minister and prime minister of Ukraine later tonight. We had very thorough discussions today. This is hard, tough stuff. This is very serious."

Mr Kerry played down Mr Lavrov's refusal to meet his Ukrainian counterpart in Paris, saying he had never expected that to happen.

He also insisted that sanctions against Russia were still an option but stressed: "We would prefer to find an appropriate diplomatic solution to this."