Ukraine crisis: Vitaly Klitschko pulls out of presidential race as Russia says it has 'no intention' of invasion into east of country

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov rules out feared invasion

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The Independent Online

Russia's foreign minister has claimed Moscow has “absolutely no intention” of ordering its armed forces to cross the Ukrainian border amid growing fears of an invasion.

Sergey Lavrov appeared to rule out a move into eastern Ukraine following Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

“We have absolutely no intention and no interests in crossing the Ukrainian border,” he told Russian state television on Saturday.

"We [Russia and the West] are getting closer in our positions," he added, saying recent contacts had shown the outlines of a "possible joint initiative which could be presented to our Ukrainian colleagues".

Mr Lavrov will meet US Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris on Sunday, as both sides move to ease tensions in what has been called the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War.

The news came after Barack Obama urged Vladimir Putin to withdraw troops from near the Ukraine border, in the first direct contact between the two leaders since takeover of Crimea.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov..

The White House said that Mr Obama had urged the Russian President in a telephone call to ease tensions by removing soldiers and respond to proposals for a diplomatic solution put forward by the US.

The Kremlin said Mr Putin had suggested "examining possible steps the global community can take to help stabilise the situation" and said the foreign ministers of the two countries would hold discussions.

Tougher sanctions could be imposed on Russia on top of visa bans for some of Mr Putin's inner circle.

The news came as a former boxer who was tipped for victory in the Ukrainian presidential race pulled out of the election.

Vitaly Klitschko has instead thrown his weight behind Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire confectionary oligarch hailed as one of the most influential people in Ukrainian politics.

His withdrawal sets up a contest between the man known as the “ Chocolate King” and Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Prime Minister, on 25 May.

Ukrainian lawmaker Petro Poroshenko speaks with members and supporters of the 'Right sector' political party during their rally near the Ukrainian Parliament building in Kiev, Ukraine

Mr Poroshenko, 48, confirmed his candidacy late on Friday but several opinions polls already had him in the lead even before he said he would run to succeed ousted president Viktor Yanukovich.

He was an early and influential supporter of the popular uprising that toppled Mr Yanukovich in February, three months after he spurned a deal on closer ties with the European Union, sparking protests across the country.

Mr Poroshenko’s pledges include strengthening Ukraine’s armed forces and protecting its borders.

”We need to build a new, efficient and modern Ukrainian army, which will defend the sovereignty and integrity of our country,“ Interfax news agency quoted him as saying in Vinnitsa.

Mr Klitschko told a meeting of his UDAR (Punch) party, urged supporters to back Mr Poroshenko and announced he would run instead for mayor of Kiev.

”The only chance of winning is to nominate one candidate from the democratic forces,“ he said.

Ukrainians will vote under the shadow of Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Black Sea Crimea peninsula.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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