Despite warnings from US, UK and elsewhere that Russian troops could move on Ukraine as soon as Wednesday, carefully choreographed meeting between President Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggests otherwise.

Russia's Putin tells FM Lavrov the West could try to draw Russia into
Russia's Putin tells FM Lavrov the West could try to draw Russia into "endless talks" and questioned whether there is still a chance to reach agreement. (AP)

Russia has held the door open to further talks on resolving its standoff with the West and said some of its military drills were ending, signalling a possible easing of the crisis over Ukraine.

During a carefully choreographed meeting with President Vladimir Putin on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said "there is always a chance" to reach an agreement with the West over Ukraine.

Exchanges with leaders in European capitals and Washington showed enough of an opening for progress on Russia's goals to be worth pursuing, he told Putin.

The talks "can't go on indefinitely, but I would suggest to continue and expand them at this stage," Lavrov said, noting that Washington has offered to conduct dialogue on limits for missile deployments in Europe, restrictions on military drills and other confidence-building measures. 

Lavrov said possibilities for talks "are far from being exhausted."

His comments, at an appearance orchestrated for TV cameras, seemed designed to send a message to the world about Putin's own position: namely, that hopes for a diplomatic solution aren't yet dead.

Putin noted the West could try to draw Russia into "endless talks" and questioned whether there is still a chance to reach agreement. 

Lavrov replied that his ministry wouldn't allow the US and its allies to stonewall Russia's main requests.

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EU leaders up diplomacy 

While the comments from President Putin and his foreign and defence ministers seemed to offer hope of a de-escalation, the Pentagon said Russian forces on the border with Ukraine were still growing.

"It is a distinct possibility, perhaps more real than ever before, that Russia may decide to proceed with military action, with new Russian forces continuing to arrive at the Ukrainian border," US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

But Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said they still did not believe Moscow had made a final decision on whether to invade.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Kiev, vowing that Berlin and its Western allies would maintain support for Ukraine's security and independence. He urged Russia to take up "offers of dialogue".

During a news conference in Kiev with Zelenskyy, Scholz said there was "no reasonable justification" for Russia's build-up of troops around Ukraine's borders.

Scholz will visit Moscow on Tuesday.

Ukraine has demanded an urgent meeting with Russia and other members of the pan-European security body, the OSCE, to explain Moscow's troop movements.

Britain's prime minister said Europe is "on the edge of a precipice" — but added, "there is still time for President Putin to step back." France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told French television that "all elements" were in place for Russian forces to conduct a "strong offensive," but "nothing shows today" that Putin has decided to launch one.

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'Nobody wants civil war'

European leaders have warned that the build-up is the worst threat to the continent's security since the Cold War, with Putin demanding a rollback of Western influence in eastern Europe and a ban on Ukraine joining NATO.

Western allies have prepared what they warn would be a crippling package of economic sanctions in response to any attack, although Moscow has repeatedly said it has no such plans.

Recent Russian military exercises, including with Belarus, where the US said Moscow had dispatched 30,000 troops for more than a week of drills, have caused rising concern.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin that some of the drills were "ending" and more would end "in the near future".

In Kiev, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov hailed "positive" talks with his Belarusian counterpart, saying he had been assured "there are no threats to Ukraine from Belarus".

US intelligence officials worry that weeks of crisis talks have given Russia the time to prepare a major offensive should Putin decide to attack Ukraine.

On Sunday, Washington warned that Russia was ready to strike at "any moment".

But on Monday, Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine's Security and Defence Council, said Kiev did not believe Russia would attack on Wednesday or Thursday.

Near the frontline separating Kiev-held territory from areas controlled by Moscow-backed insurgents in the east, underprivileged children in the care of church groups were helping with war preparations.

"We are digging trenches that Ukrainian soldiers could quickly jump into and defend in case the Russians attack," 15-year-old Mykhailo Anopa told AFP news agency.

In Moscow, Russians said they did not want war.

"People in the West do not understand that we are one people," Pavel Kuleshov, a 65-year-old pensioner, told AFP, referring to Russians and Ukrainians. 

"Nobody wants a civil war."

READ MORE: Ukraine to pursue 'NATO membership goal' despite Russia's anger

Source: AFP