Tillerson appoints former North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ambassador to lead Ukraine negotiations

"It is necessary for Russian Federation to take the first step to de-escalate the situation in the east part of Ukraine", Tillerson said as he made his first visit as Washington's top diplomat to Kiev. And we do not rule out that we'll be able to arrange a summit following these phone talks.

According to the president, Ukraine is not interested in delaying such negotiations, because "Ukraine pays a high price - its heroes are wounded and killed" every day.

The conflict as well as Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 have pushed ties between Moscow and the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.

Poroshenko, who said Volker would remain in Ukraine for the next several days, maintained that a resolution to the crisis "needs only the political will of Moscow".

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The rhetoric is remarkably different from three months ago, when while at a G7 meeting in Italy Tillerson questioned why U.S. taxpayers should be interested in Ukraine.

The State Department announced on July 7 that Tillerson would be accompanied to Kyiv by Kurt Volker, a former USA ambassador to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation whom Trump's top diplomat has appointed as a special envoy to negotiate over the fate of war-racked Ukraine. The Kremlin has denied backing the separatists.

Tillerson said sanctions against Russian Federation would remain in place "until Moscow reverses its actions", including the return of the annexed Crimean peninsula.

Efforts to secure a peace deal have foundered as the fighting has dragged on, and neither side appears prepared to make concessions.

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"So Ukraine didn't matter enough to this administration to have them appoint a special envoy in the first place?" said Smith, now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

Poroshenko hailed U.S. involvement and reiterated Tillerson's commitment to seeking a negotiated peace deal. "I don't know if we will ever come to an agreement, obviously with our Russian counterparts on that".

Mr Trump tweeted on Sunday that he had "strongly pressed" Mr Putin about Russian interference in the U.S. election and had discussed with him the possibility of creating "an impenetrable cyber security unit". "We firmly adhere to our commitments", he said. Contrary to concern in Washington that President Donald Trump would unilaterally lift some of the sanctions to appease Russian President Vladimir Putin, the administration has thus far held the line on existing punitive measures.

He called the initial dialogue an effort to "explore a framework under which we might begin to have agreement on how to deal with these very complex issues of cyberthreats, cybersecurity, cyberintrusions".

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