Barack Obama urges Vladimir Putin to get Ukrainian separatists to give up their firearms — U.S. President “expressed grave concern”

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A masked pro-Russian activist looks from a balcony of the regional administration building decorated with a banner reading "Donetsk Republic" in Donetsk, Ukraine, Saturday, April 12, 2014. The unrest in Donetsk and Slovyansk, about 90 kilometers (55 miles) to the north, were the latest shows of spiraling anger in eastern Ukraine, which has a large Russian-speaking population and was also the support base for Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president who was ousted in February after months of protests in the capital, Kiev.(AP Photo/Max Vetrov)

A masked pro-Russian activist looks from a balcony of the regional administration building decorated with a banner reading “Donetsk Republic” in Donetsk, Ukraine, Saturday, April 12, 2014. The unrest in Donetsk and Slovyansk, about 90 kilometers (55 miles) to the north, were the latest shows of spiraling anger in eastern Ukraine, which has a large Russian-speaking population and was also the support base for Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president who was ousted in February after months of protests in the capital, Kiev.(AP Photo/Max Vetrov)

Leaders spoke for the first time in two weeks but showed little sign of agreement over pro-Russian insurgency

U.S. President ‘expressed grave concern’ about Russian government support for armed separatist movement

Mr Putin told Mr Obama that reports of Russian interference in region were ‘based on unreliable information’

By Simon Tomlinson

Barack Obama has urged Vladimir Putin to use his influence to convince pro-Russian forces to abandon government buildings they have seized in eastern Ukraine.

The two spoke for the first time in more than two weeks but showed little sign of agreement, with the U.S. president calling on pro-Russian forces to de-escalate the situation, and Mr Putin denying that Moscow was interfering in the region.

The White House said Russia initiated the phone call, which came as pro-Russian forces deepened their insurgency in Ukraine’s east, seizing more than a dozen government buildings.

The White House said: ‘The president expressed grave concern about Russian government support for the actions of armed pro-Russian separatists who threaten to undermine and destabilise the government of Ukraine.

‘The president emphasised that all irregular forces in the country need to lay down their arms, and he urged president Putin to use his influence with these armed pro-Russian groups to convince them to depart the buildings they have seized.’

 

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The Kremlin said Mr Putin told Mr Obama that reports of Russian interference in the region were ‘based on unreliable information’. The Russian leader also urged Mr Obama to discourage the Ukrainian government from using force against those protesters.

Both sides suggest that plans will go forward for talks on Thursday in Geneva between the U.S., Russia, Ukraine and Europe.

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Ukrainian soldiers sit on top of military vehicles with Ukrainian national flags in a field about 44 miles from the Ukrainian town of Slovyansk, where the regional administration building was seized by pro-Russian activists

US officials say there is compelling evidence that Russia is fomenting the unrest in eastern Ukraine, but have suggested Mr Obama has not yet concluded that Mr Putin's actions warrant broader sanctions on key Russian economic sectors

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