Geneva: Russia, Ukraine, the US and EU reached a surprise deal today on deescalating the worsening crisis in Ukraine, in a ray of hope for the former Soviet republic that has plunged into chaos.
The agreement reached in Geneva comes as a strong contrast to earlier hawkish comments made by Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who left the door open for intervention in Ukraine.
A ban by Kiev on all Russian males aged 16 to 60 from entering Ukrainian territory had also ratcheted up tensions, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov calling the measure "disgusting".
But after half a day of talks, the four parties agreed on steps to "restore security for all citizens", including a call to disband armed groups that have taken over buildings in Ukraine "illegally".
While not spelt out in the agreement, these groups could refer to pro-Kremlin separatists who have seized control of government buildings and taken over parts of Ukraine's southeast, destabilising the country.
"All illegal armed groups must be disarmed, illegally seized buildings returned to their rightful owners," Lavrov said as he briefed reporters about the deal reached with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Ukraine's Andriy Deshchytsia and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
Washington and Kiev have accused Russia of supporting the militants who have occupied buildings such as police stations and government bases, but Moscow has always categorically denied this.
Lavrov also said Russia had "no desire" to send troops into Ukraine, toning down earlier comments by Putin.
Warning that Ukraine was plunging into the "abyss" just hours after three separatists were killed in a gunbattle with troops in eastern Ukraine, Putin had stressed he hoped not to have to use his "right" to send Russian troops into its western neighbour.