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Kerry urges Russia to join U.S., allies in helping Ukraine

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Russia on Thursday to join the United States and allies in stabilizing Ukraine and said he would watch closely whether Moscow keeps its word not to interfere in the internal affairs of the former Soviet republic.

Kerry's comments came as Ukraine warned Russia about troop movements after armed men seized the parliament in Ukraine's Crime region and raised the Russian flag.

Kerry said he spoke by phone on Thursday to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who reaffirmed earlier statements by President Vladimir Putin that Moscow would respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Lavrov also underscored that Russian military exercises on the border of Ukraine were previously scheduled and not related to events in Ukraine, Kerry added.

"We believe that everybody now needs to step back and avoid any kind of provocations," Kerry said during a news conference with his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. "We want to see in the next days ahead that the choices Russia makes conform to this affirmation we received today," Kerry said.

Moscow has said it will not intervene by force, although its rhetoric since the removal of ally President Viktor Yanukovich by Ukraine's parliament appears to echo that of the run-up to its invasion of Georgia in 2009.

Steinmeier welcomed the formation on Thursday of an interim government in Ukraine. He said the government should be given the breathing space to stabilize the country and cautioned that now was not the time to try to pressure it to turn more to the West.

"Given the critical situation, it is important that Ukraine is given breathing space, a reprieve, in order to stabilize the situation on the ground," Steinmeier said through an interpreter. "It ought not to be our mission at this particular point in time to draw Ukraine towards the West or to the East."

Steinmeier said he would meet the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, on Friday and hoped the institution would move quickly to approve emergency funding for Ukraine, which is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

He said the European Union would likely provide about $1 billion in funding assistance to Ukraine. Kerry said on Wednesday the United States was considering $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine as well as budget support to help its ailing economy.

Steinmeier said the international community first needed to assess how much funding Ukraine needed.

"We have heard many different figures placed on the table. It is difficult for anyone to give an exact idea how much Ukraine needs (because) Yanukovich has kept the figures hidden under his desk," he added.

Both Europe and the United States have insisted that Ukraine must seek an IMF program before they disburse funding to Kiev. An IMF program would include economic reforms to put the country's struggling economy on a sounder footing.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Sabine Siebold; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Peter Cooney)

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