John Kerry Sergei Lavrov
Kerry Lavrov have met numerous times since the Ukraine crisis erupted but not in MoscowReuters

US Secretary of State John Kerry met Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in an attempt to work together on the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

However, the meeting in the Russian resort of Sochi on 12 May, offered little sign of concrete progress after more than eight hours of talks.

The three also discussed the Iran nuclear talks as well as the civil strife in Yemen and Libya.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, the two foreign ministers accentuated the positive despite the fact that US-Russian relations have sunk to their lowest level since the Cold War largely because of the Ukraine crisis.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir PutinReuters

"We have an understanding that we need to avoid steps which are able to inflict a long-term harm to bilateral relations between Russia and the United States," Lavrov told reporters through an interpreter.

"There is no substitute for talking directly to key decision makers, particularly during a period that is a complex and fast moving as this is," Kerry added.

Ties between Washington and Moscow have deteriorated since Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula in March 2014 and backed pro-Russian separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. Moscow accuses Washington of orchestrating last year's overthrow of a Ukrainian president who was supported by Russia.

Washington has accused Russia of failing to withdraw heavy equipment such as air defence systems, tanks and artillery from eastern Ukraine in violation of a peace plan agreed in February and known as Minsk 2.

Ukraine Donetsk
A woman carries her belongings in front of an armoured personnel carrier of the separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic army in DebaltseveREUTERS/Baz Ratner

Russia denies Western and Ukrainian accusations that it is arming the pro-Russian separatists battling the government and supporting them with its own military forces. More than 6,100 people have been killed since April 2014 in the Ukraine crisis.

The United States and European Union imposed economic sanctions on Russia after it took over Crimea and have intensified them since. A US official hinted they could be eased if Russia complied with the Minsk plan, which calls for withdrawing heavy weaponry and respecting Ukraine's border.

"We are in significant agreement on the most important issue of all, which is that [the conflict in Ukraine] will only be resolved by the full implementation of Minsk and all of us have responsibilities to undertake in order to affect that implementation," Mr Kerry said.