Hopes for a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis faded even more on Friday after six hours of talks between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in London ended with “no common vision”, as Mr. Lavrov put it.
“We will respect the will of the Crimean people,” Mr. Lavrov said, referring to the separatist referendum on “rejoining” Russia planned for Sunday by Moscow-backed authorities in the Black Sea peninsula.
The United States and the European Union have threatened immediate sanctions against Russia if the vote goes ahead.
Mr. Kerry reiterated that there would be “consequences if Russia does not find a way to change course,” saying ratification of the referendum in the Russian Duma would amount to a “back-door annexation of Crimea”. It would “fly in the face” of international law and efforts to reach out to Russia in way that would protect the interests of Crimea, Ukraine and Russia, he continued.
The U.S. was “deeply concerned” about the large deployments of Russian forces in Crimea and along the eastern border with Russia, he said.
The U.S. is keeping a “close eye” on reported agitators being bussed in from Russia to stir up conflict, the White House said.
President Barack Obama warned in Washington of consequences if Ukraine’s sovereignty “continues to be violated”, and the White House indicated the U.S. would react “quickly” in deploying sanctions.
“We continue to hope that there’s a diplomatic solution to be found,” Mr. Obama said.
It was announced late Friday that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden would travel to Poland and Lithuania over March 17-19 to consult on Ukraine with the presidents of Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia.
Mr. Biden will also reaffirm the U.S.’ “collective defense commitments under the North Atlantic Treaty” and its “enduring support” for all its allies and partners in Europe, according to a White House statement.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council was to make a last ditch, and apparently symbolic, attempt to rescue the situation with a vote on Saturday on a resolution that would condemn the Crimea referendum.
Russia will likely make use of its veto power to block the move.
The U.S.-backed resolution will express support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and urge the international community not to recognize the referendum’s results, U.S. ambassador Samantha Power said.
Mr. Lavrov said that after the talks with Mr. Kerry, “our partners understand that sanctions are a counterproductive instrument”. He reassured that Russia had no plans for “military intrusion” in eastern Ukraine, where violent clashes have broken out between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian activists.
E.U. diplomats continued to prepare sanctions over Russia’s failure to dial down tensions in Ukraine. The decision whether to implement travel bans and asset freezes will be taken by the bloc’s foreign ministers on Monday, and could be implemented almost immediately, sources said.
In the past, such measures have typically not taken effect until a day later.
A list of possible targets is being finalized, a senior E.U. official said, declining to comment on whether Russian government figures could be among those hit with restrictive measures.
“We are working relentlessly,” the official noted on condition of anonymity. “If there is one agreement among member states so far, it is that we have not yet seen any de-escalation (in Ukraine).” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that the referendum would “undermine international efforts to find a peaceful and political solution” to the crisis and urged Russia to “act responsibly, uphold its obligations under international law.” The U.S. Defence Department was reviewing requests for assistance from Ukraine’s interim government in Ukraine, Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez told dpa. “Our focus continues to be on supporting economic and diplomatic measures to de-escalate the situation.” As a first step, the Pentagon was preparing a shipment of 300,000 individually packaged meals to the Ukrainian military, Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez told dpa.
In the east Ukrainian city of Donetsk, at least one man was killed and 26 were injured in a violence between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian activists late Thursday, local health authorities said.
The victim was identified by local media as Dmytro Chernyavskiy, an activist with the local branch of the Svoboda nationalist party.
Donetsk is the capital of the Donbass mining region, which was the home and power base of deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.
The Russian Foreign Ministry blamed the Ukrainian government for the clash and insisted that Moscow “retains the right” to protect its compatriots.
Russian authorities were tightening their grip on media outlets, apparently in connection with their reporting on events in Ukraine.
The country’s media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, said on Thursday that it had ordered internet providers to block three news sites and the blog of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Mr. Navalny is under house arrest, but has regularly updated his blog. It includes a lengthy post that criticizes the Russian incursion in Crimea. Roskomnadzor has argued that the blog’s functioning violates the conditions of Mr. Navalny’s arrest.
Keywords: Ukraine crisis, Crimea referrendum, Russia-Ukraine dispute, Vladimir Putin, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Viktor Yanukovych, Oleksandr Turchinov, pro-EU protests, Russia-US relations, Kerry-Lavrov meeting