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Japan postpones foreign minister's trip to Russia

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan has postponed a visit to Russia by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida that had been planned for later this month, the foreign ministry said on Thursday, as bloodshed in an eastern city in Ukraine threatened to overshadow crisis talks in Geneva. A Japanese foreign ministry spokesman said the visit had been postponed for scheduling reasons.

Putin says Kiev's use of army against separatists a 'grave crime'

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Ukraine's decision to send armed forces into the east of the country instead of trying to establish a dialogue with the Russian-speaking population there was a "grave crime." In a televised call-in with the nation, Putin also dismissed allegations that Russian forces were present in east Ukraine and emphasized the importance of international talks on the crisis taking place in Geneva.

Femen topless activists detained outside Ukraine talks in Geneva

GENEVA (Reuters) - Two women from the Femen activist group were detained on Thursday as they tried to conduct a bare-breasted protest outside the Geneva hotel which is hosting four-way talks on the Ukraine crisis. A Reuters cameraman saw Swiss police detain the two women shortly before Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was due to arrive at the talks, where he will meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Ukraine's acting Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia.

Ukraine disbands army unit after fiasco push into east

Ukraine on Thursday disbanded an army unit that lost six armoured vehicles to pro-Russian militants, as Kiev's military reeled from a disastrous attempt to oust separatists in its eastern regions. "The 25th parachute brigade, members of which showed cowardice and gave up their weapons, will be demobilised and the guilty servicemen brought before court," acting President Oleksandr Turchynov told parliament.

Russia's Lavrov last to arrive for crunch Ukraine talks

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was the last to arrive at a Geneva hotel Thursday where he is due to hold high-stake talks on the Ukraine crisis with counterparts from Kiev, Washington and Brussels. He will sit down at the negotiating table with Ukraine's interim Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya, US Secretary of State John Kerry and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton -- the latter two having already held bilateral talks.

High-stakes Ukraine talks open as Putin warns of 'abyss'

Russia and Ukraine sat down Thursday for Western-backed talks on the escalating crisis in the former Soviet republic as Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the authorities in Kiev of dragging the country towards the abyss. In a dramatic worsening of tensions in the restive east, three pro-Moscow separatists were killed in an overnight gunbattle with Ukrainian troops in the southeastern port city of Mariupol.

Russian FSB demanded Ukraine protest group details: VKontakte founder

The founder of Russia's biggest social network VKontakte (VK) said Russia's security services demanded to know the identities of people running group pages of Ukrainian pro-EU protest last year. The Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia's most powerful security agency, sent a letter to VK CEO Pavel Durov on December 13, "demanding that we give out personal data of Euromaidan group moderators," Durov wrote on his VK page.

Ukraine troops kill pro-Russia militants ahead of key talks

Ukrainian troops killed three pro-Russian militants in the country's tense southeast early Thursday, just hours ahead of key talks in Geneva seeking to ease the escalating crisis in the former Soviet republic. The gun battle erupted overnight when around 300 people lobbed petrol bombs and fired weapons at an interior ministry base in the port city of Mariupol, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on his Facebook page.

Ukraine launches probe against Russian bank for funding 'terrorism'

Ukraine has launched an investigation into a Russian state bank, Sberbank, for funding pro-Moscow separatists, the chief prosecutor said. "We have started an investigation into Sherbank" on suspicion of 'financing terrorism,'" Oleg Makhnitskiy, told Ukraine's Channel 5 television network late Wednesday. Makhnitskiy said Ukrainian authorities had put an end to the financing of "terrorism" by 14 banks and brought more than 300 criminal cases to court. He did not identify the banks or give further details.

High-stake Ukraine talks kick off in Geneva

High-stake talks bringing together Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union kicked off in Geneva Thursday in a bid to ease the worsening crisis in the former Soviet republic. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Ukrainian counterpart Andriy Deshchytsya, US Secretary of State John Kerry and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton sat down at the negotiating table, just hours after three pro-Moscow separatists were killed in Ukraine's southeast during a raid on a military base, ratcheting up tensions. bur-mbx/yad
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