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Russia Says It Doesn't Plan To Invade Ukraine

The Russian troops who are holding Crimea won't be sent into Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says. "We have absolutely no intention of — or interest in — crossing Ukraine's borders," Lavrov told a Russian TV station Saturday, according to a translation by Reuters.

The comments from Moscow come after a phone call from Russian President Vladimir Putin to President Obama Friday. The two leaders discussed possible diplomatic solutions to the crisis, which has sparked Western sanctions. And they agreed that Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry should meet "to discuss next steps," as The Two-Way reported Friday.

Update at 12:20 p.m. ET: Kerry And Lavrov Will Meet

The State Department says that plans are being made to let the top Russian and U.S. diplomats meet in Paris Sunday. The two also reportedly spoke by phone Saturday.

Our original post continues:

"The phone call on Friday lasted about an hour, during which Mr. Obama is said to have urged President Putin to stop provocations, like sending troops to the Russian border with Ukraine," NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Moscow. "The Kremlin early Saturday said Putin told Obama that he remains concerned about the 'continued rampage of extremists' across Ukraine."

In addition to economic sanctions on Russia, the U.S. should give military support to help Ukraine defend itself, Sen. John McCain tells NPR's Scott Simon on Saturday's Weekend Edition.

Calling the seizure of Crimea "a naked act of aggression by Vladimir Putin," McCain said that the U.S. must realize the Russian leader "is what he is: a KGB colonel that is committed to the restoration of the Russian empire."

A Ukrainian serviceman sits next to gear and bags before leaving the Belbek airbase near Sevastopol, Crimea, Friday. Ukraine is withdrawing its troops and weapons from Crimea, now controlled by Russia.
Andrew Lubimov / AP
A Ukrainian serviceman sits next to gear and bags before leaving the Belbek airbase near Sevastopol, Crimea, Friday. Ukraine is withdrawing its troops and weapons from Crimea, now controlled by Russia.

Lavrov's remarks Saturday included a promise that Russia would protect "the rights of Russians and Russian-speaking people in Ukraine, using all available political, diplomatic and legal means," the BBC reports.

On Friday, U.S. officials said that Russia has massed from 35,000 to 40,000 troops near the border with Ukraine, according to Reuters.

In a symbolic move, Crimea is switching its time zone today to match that of Moscow, according to Russia's state-run Tass news agency. The region has been two hours behind the Russian capital.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is planning elections to find a permanent replacement for ousted President Viktor Yanukovych. Former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, who emerged as a leader of the opposition in recent months, said Saturday that he won't seek the office.

Klitschko says he's backing billionaire businessman Petro Poroshenko; he urged other potential candidates to do the same, to avoid splitting votes. The field of candidates includes former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Defense officials in Ukraine are disputing Russia's claim that all Ukrainian military personnel who want to leave Crimea have been allowed to do so. From Kiev, NPR's Peter Kenyon reports that officials also say they haven't gotten official declarations from Russia about the return of captured tanks, aircraft and naval vessels.

Peter says Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Leonid Polyakov calls Russian troop movements on the border in the past two weeks orderly but "provocative." He added that Ukraine's forces remain on high alert.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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