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Russia says U.S. should push Ukrainian leader to halt violence

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The United States should press Ukraine's new leader to stop violence and talk to separatists, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after meeting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday, Russian media reported.

Speaking to journalists after talks with Kerry in Paris, Lavrov said Ukraine's pro-Western government should take the first step to stop the fighting and voiced confidence its opponents in eastern Ukraine's Luhansk and Donetsk regions would follow suit.

"The first step should be a halt to the so-called counter-terrorist operation ... and I am convinced that both Luhansk and Donetsk in this case would do what they have said more than once: they will be ready to cease fire and sit at the negotiating table," Lavrov said, according to Itar-Tass news agency.

"We very much hope that U.S. influence on Ukrainian President-elect (Petro) Poroshenko will be used to stop the tension and confrontation," he was quoted as saying.

"I have no doubt that our American partners can and are influencing Poroshenko."

Poroshenko was elected on May 25 to replace a pro-Russian president who was ousted in February, in a chain of events that has set off deadly violence in eastern Ukraine and opened the widest rift between Russia and the West since the Cold War.

The United States, EU and others have imposed sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region in March.

Western nations accuse Russia of supporting the separatists. The G7 leaders, holding a summit without Russian President Vladimir Putin, threatened on Wednesday to impose harder-hitting sanctions on Russia if it does not help restore stability to eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian militias operate at will.

Lavrov and Kerry met a day before commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, which opened a second front and helped an Alliance including the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union defeat Nazi Germany in World War Two.

"Tomorrow we will have ceremonial events dedicated to the landings in Normandy and President Putin will participate," Lavrov said, according to state-run Itar-Tass.

"I think this would be a good opportunity to join forces to prevent new conflicts on the European continent, to find ways to unite our efforts to restore peace in Ukraine."

(Writing by Steve Gutterman; editing by Andrew Roche)

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