U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met on Sunday to discuss possible ways of regulating the crisis in Ukraine, with the American representative telling Moscow that progress depended on a Russian troop pullback from Ukraine’s borders.
“Both sides made suggestions of ways to de-escalate the security and political situation in and around Ukraine,” Kerry told a news conference late on Sunday after meeting with Lavrov for four hours in Paris.
“Any real progress in Ukraine must include a pullback of the very large Russian force that is currently massing along Ukraine’s borders,” Kerry said. “We believe these forces are creating a climate of fear and intimidation in Ukraine. It certainly does not create the climate that we need.”
The representatives of the countries were seeking to hammer out the framework of a deal to reduce tensions over Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.
The Moscow decision to send military troops to the region of Crimea, following the ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Russia president in February, has sparked the worst East-West confrontation since the Cold War ended two decades ago.
And despite there were no signs of agreement between the two, the sides agreed to keep talking and both said the Ukrainian government had to be part of the solution.
“Neither Russia, nor the United States, nor anyone else can impose any specific plans on Ukrainians,” Lavrov told a separate briefing after the talks.
Washington is adamant that there could be “no decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine,” Kerry told reporters.
The United States and European Union have issued numerous sanctions against Russia, including visa bans and asset freezes of some prominent figures in Moscow, to punish the Kremlin over its seizure of Crimea.
Leaders of the G7 agreed on toughening sanctions targeting Moscow’s economy unless the Russian president took further action to destabilize Ukraine or other former Soviet republics.
“If Russia continues on its current course, however, the isolation will deepen, sanctions will increase and there will be more consequences for the Russian economy,” Obama told a joint news conference with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
The citizens of the peninsula voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia in a March 16 referendum dismissed as a sham by Western governments that say it violated Ukraine’s constitution and was held only after Russian forces seized control of the region.
The U.S. president’s aides said of the referendum at the time: “The United States has steadfastly supported the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ukraine since it declared its independence in 1991, and we reject the ‘referendum’ that took place today in the Crimean region of Ukraine.”
“The U.S. and Russia have differences of opinion about events that led to this crisis, but both of us recognize the importance of finding a diplomatic solution and simultaneously meeting the needs of the Ukrainian people,” Kerry said.