U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Saturday agreed in a telephone conversation to maintain intense contact in search of a solution to the Ukrainian crisis, Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Earlier Saturday, Lavrov had offered to engage in dialogue with the West about Russia's neighbor as long as the international community stopped accusing Moscow of instigating the crisis.
"We are ready to continue a dialogue (with the West) on the understanding that a dialogue should be honest and partner-like, and without attempts to make us look like a party to the conflict," he told reporters in the Russian capital.
Separately, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin and Ukraine's ambassador to Russia, Volodymyr Yelchenko, met Saturday in Moscow in apparent first official contact between the Russian government and the Ukrainian authorities installed after the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych, Kremlin ally.
Nevertheless, Russian authorities refuse to officially recognize the new Ukrainian government as legitimate and accuse them of taking power in an armed insurrection spearheaded by radical ultra-nationalists.
Meanwhile, Russia fired back at the United States and other Western countries for threatening sanctions in response to an increased Russian military presence in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.
A high-ranking Russian Defense Ministry official said Saturday that Moscow was considering suspending international nuclear arms inspections on its territory under the framework of the U.S.-Russian START III treaty.
"The unfounded threats towards Russia from the United States and NATO over its policy on Ukraine are seen by us as an unfriendly gesture that allows the declaration of force majeure circumstances," the unnamed official said in a statement.
Ukraine said Friday that Moscow has already deployed up to 30,000 troops in the autonomous Ukrainian republic of Crimea, whose parliament has voted to hold a referendum on reunification with Russia.
The Crimean parliament voted Thursday to reunite with Russia, 60 years after the peninsula was transferred to the Ukraine by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, and hold a referendum on the issue on March 16.
After the vote, the deputy prime minister of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea told reporters that Russian armed forces deployed in the peninsula will be considered legitimate, while any other troops will be regarded as "occupying" forces.
The Crimean Peninsula, located on the northern coast of the Black Sea, is home to 2 million people; ethnic Russians make up 60 percent of the population, while 25 percent of residents are ethnic Ukrainians and 12 percent are Crimean Tatars, who favor keeping that region a part of Ukraine.
Kiev's new authorities consider the government of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea to be a puppet of Moscow, while the Crimean authorities regard Ukraine's new leaders as illegitimate and still recognize Yanukovych, ousted from power last month and currently in Russia, as Ukraine's president.
Moscow deployed its forces and took de facto control last week of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, a majority Russian-speaking region, claiming it was protecting ethnic Russians and Russia's interests in the area.
Russia's Black Sea Fleet is based in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, which has been the naval force's home port since the 18th century.
The United States, meanwhile, said Thursday that the holding of a referendum on the future of the Crimean Peninsula would violate international law.
President Obama also said his government was imposing visa restrictions and personal sanctions on "individuals and entities" involved in the Russian military intervention in Crimea.
The crisis in Ukraine erupted at the end of November, when Yanukovych backed away from plans to ink an "association agreement" with the European Union and instead signed a $15 billion financial-aid package with Russia.
Protesters took to the streets of Kiev and began occupying administrative buildings, prompting Ukraine's parliament, then controlled by Yanukovych's allies, to pass a package of laws on Jan. 16 restricting freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and other basic rights.
Violent clashes pitting demonstrators and riot police broke out three days later and left six dead and hundreds wounded.
Ukrainian officials and opposition leaders began seeking a negotiated solution to the crisis in the wake of the bloodshed.
The talks led to the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov on Jan. 28 and the repeal of the controversial anti-protest laws.
But more street battles pitting pro-European Union protesters against the security forces left dozens dead in February, and led to Yanukovych agreeing to call early presidential elections and then fleeing Kiev.
After Yanukovych left the city, many of his former allies in parliament turned against him and helped oust him from power and release his arch-rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, from prison. EFE