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Ukraine peace talks continue

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday urged Russia's Vladimir Putin to encourage Ukraine rebels to lay down their weapons.  (Source: CNN) U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday urged Russia's Vladimir Putin to encourage Ukraine rebels to lay down their weapons. (Source: CNN)

(CNN) - Russia's upper house of Parliament voted on Wednesday to revoke the right of President Vladimir Putin to use Russian troops in Ukraine, as efforts to calm a separatist uprising in Ukraine's east continue.

The Federation Council had approved Putin's request for a resolution allowing the use of force on March 1.

But on Tuesday, the Putin sent a letter to the speaker of the upper house asking it to cancel the resolution. Only one senator voted against revoking the powers Wednesday with 153 in favor.

Putin's request was made in light of ongoing talks on how to settle the crisis in Ukraine's eastern regions, said presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Russia and Ukraine have been engaged in a tense standoff since March when Russia annexed the previously Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and massed troops along other parts of its border with Ukraine.

Ukraine's new President Petro Poroshenko declared a cease-fire in Kiev's fight against pro-Russia separatists last week in an effort to calm the situation.

The violence continued Tuesday when Ukrainian authorities said pro-Russia militants shot down a military helicopter in eastern Ukraine with the loss of nine lives.

However, peace talks involving representatives from all sides continued on Wednesday in Ukraine's Donetsk city, Ukraine's official Ukrinform news agency said.

Those participating included Ukrainian government officials, pro-Russia separatists from the restive eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions, Russian officials and members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

NATO's Rasmussen: Peace plan a step forward

NATO foreign ministers on Wednesday endorsed a package of support strengthening the ability of Ukraine, which is not a member of the alliance, to defend itself.

Agreed to after talks with Ukraine's new Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin in Brussels, the package includes "the creation of new trust funds to support defense capacity building in critical areas such as logistics, command and control, cyber defense and to help retired military personnel to adapt to civilian life," according to NATO.

"Ukraine has a clear vision for rebuilding its defense and security sector and a clear strategy for resolving the crisis," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.

Poroshenko's peace plan is "a major step forward and we fully support it," he added.

He also called on Russia "to create conditions for the implementation of the peace plan, to end its support for separatist troops, and to stop the flow of weapons and fighters across its border."

The meeting comes ahead of a NATO summit in Wales in September, "at a time when security challenges are multiplying beyond our borders," Rasmussen said.

"Today we stressed the importance of our collective defense," he said.

The ministers from the 28 NATO members - some of whom are former Soviet states whose nerves have been frayed by Russia's actions against Ukraine - also agreed to maintain the suspension of practical civilian and military cooperation with Russia.

"There will be no business as usual with Russia until Russia comes back into line with its international obligations," Rasmussen said.

Coordinated sanctions

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Klimkin ahead of Wednesday's talks.

Kerry discussed their joint support for Poroshenko's peace plan and the importance of preparing additional coordinated sanctions if Putin does not take further steps to de-escalate, the official said. Kerry said there is much Putin still can do to help ease tensions in Ukraine.

"The greatest difference will be made by the president publicly calling for the separatists to lay down their arms, by president Putin engaging his diplomatic service actively in the effort to help empty buildings, helping to get people to disarm, helping to convene the meetings that need to take place in order to negotiate and to move forward," Kerry said.

The United States and European Union have already imposed targeted economic sanctions against Russian individuals and companies over Russia's activities in Ukraine.

The resolution authorizing Russia to use force in Ukraine was passed only three weeks before Russia completed its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region, condemned as illegal by much of the world.

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