MOSCOW Russia's foreign minister on Tuesday praised U.S. President Donald Trump's approach to the Ukraine crisis, saying it marked a big improvement from that of his predecessor Barack Obama, in comments likely to worry Kiev.
Kiev's forces have been battling pro-Russian separatists in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine for nearly three years in a conflict in which around 10,000 people have been killed. Hostilities have flared anew in the past week, putting further pressure on a fragile two-year ceasefire.
Kiev fears that Trump, who has promised to rebuild frayed ties with Moscow, could lift sanctions imposed on Russia over its role in the conflict and its 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula.
"(Trump) said he wants to get to grips with everything in Ukraine and understand how to behave. This, I already believe, is a big and qualitative shift compared to the Obama's administration," TASS news agency quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying.
Lavrov said the United States now understood that restoring Kiev's control over eastern Ukraine would not solve all the problems in the country, TASS reported.
"If someone is hoping that all the problems in Ukraine can simply be solved by restoring the control of the current regime in Donbass, that is Utopia," Lavrov said.
"Everyone understands that, and in Europe, including Paris, Berlin and Brussels. And Washington also understands that, they began to understand it even under the previous administration."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone earlier on Tuesday and urged him to use his influence on the separatists in eastern Ukraine to stop the violence there.
Russia's comments on Trump are closely scrutinised in the United States, where U.S. intelligence agencies have accused Moscow of having sponsored computer hacking to help Trump win office. The Kremin denies the allegations.
(Reporting by Jack Stubbs; Editing by Gareth Jones)