Kerry and Putin set for Sochi talks
The US State Department has confirmed that Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Russia this week for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It will be his first trip to Russia since the start of the Ukraine crisis, which has badly damaged relations between Moscow and the west, and only his second since taking office.
The State Department said Mr Kerry will meet Mr Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Tuesday.
After his brief stop in Russia, Mr Kerry will travel to Turkey for a meeting of Nato foreign ministers and return to Washington for a summit of Gulf Arab leaders that President Barack Obama is hosting at Camp David.
Mr Kerry last visited Russia in May 2013.
Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement that it hopes Mr Kerry's visit will "normalise bilateral relations on which global stability largely depends".
Ukraine has served as the main source of discord in dialogue between Moscow and Washington.
Ukraine continues to be embroiled in a sporadic conflict between government and separatist rebel forces in its eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk despite a cease-fire agreement sealed in mid-February.
Western nations have accused Russia of supporting the separatists with arms and manpower - a claim that Moscow has denied.
Russia's foreign ministry on Monday instead blamed the United States for the unrest in Ukraine and said Washington was pursuing a policy of trying to isolate Russia on the international arena.
Russia has bristled at Washington's pledge to provide Ukraine with military assistance in the form of hardware and training.
In late April, troops from the United States and Ukraine kicked off joint training exercises intended to help bolster Ukraine's defences.
The exercises, dubbed "Fearless Guardian-2015," sparked an enraged reaction from Russia, which described them as a potential cause of destabilisation.
During a visit to Moscow on Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Russia to use its influence to persuade separatists in Ukraine to abide by the oft-violated cease-fire.
Ukraine says more than 8,000 people have died in the conflict that began in April 2014.
Russia has stuck firmly to the line that the Ukrainian government retains the bulk of responsibility for bringing about a settlement.
Diplomats in Moscow and Washington remain at odds over a range of other international issues.
Russia last month announced it would lift a five-year ban on delivery of the S-300 air defence missile system to Iran, drawing a hasty rebuke from the United States.
The White House said the missile system would give the Islamic republic's military a strong deterrent against any air attack.
The Kremlin argues that the S-300 is a purely defensive system that will not jeopardize the security of Israel or any other countries in the Middle East.
On Syria, Russia has defied a chorus of international condemnation to remain fast to the embattled regime of President Bashar Assad.