Ukraine crisis: Space for US-Russia diplomacy narrows

A Ukrainian soldier mans a checkpoint near the village of Salkovo, near the Ukrainian border with the Crimean region It looks as if the diplomatic effort to find a solution to the Ukraine crisis has hit the buffers

The next few days are going to be critical for any diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis, or at least one that comes any time soon.

But it is not looking too hopeful.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has refused to meet President Putin of Russia until he gets certain assurances from Moscow.

The US is warning that if plans go ahead for a referendum on the future of Crimea it closes the space for diplomacy.

So there is a pretty narrow window for anything to happen.

Tension de-escalation

The US and Russia both say President Putin offered to meet Mr Kerry - but the White House decided the meeting should not go ahead until Moscow made its position clear on a number of vital issues.

A man pastes a poster advertising the referendum in Crimea that reads "Together with Russia! March 16 - Referendum!" in Simferopol, Ukraine As referendum posters appear all over Crimea urging voters to join Russia, the US has warned that if the poll on Sunday goes ahead, the space for diplomacy would be significantly narrowed
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) and US Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome (6 March 2014) Mr Kerry (right) has handed his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov a briefing paper that says that any solution to the crisis must respect Ukraine's territorial integrity

They amount to a demand Russia acknowledges the Western view of the crisis and adapts its behaviour accordingly. President Putin has a habit of poking fun at visiting politicians he disagrees with, and President Obama, who has suffered some of the treatment himself, clearly did not want to expose the earnest and enthusiastic Mr Kerry to such treatment.

Mr Kerry handed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov a paper one-and-a-half pages long which stated that any solution must respect Ukraine's territorial integrity.

It then asked whether Russia would use its influence on the Duma (parliament) and the paramilitaries to de-escalate the situation and work against a referendum.

It also asked whether Russia would engage with a contact group to help Russian troops return to barracks, support Ukraine's election in May and investigate acts of violence.

You can guess the answer to these questions might be "no".

There has been no official response but the Kremlin has quoted the foreign minister as saying the document raises many questions on their side and the US has in effect accepted a coup d'etat against President Yanukovych as a starting point.

US officials say the ball is now in Moscow's court - and if the referendum planned for Sunday goes ahead that would not only severely close the space for diplomacy but would also ensure that sanctions can and will be escalated.

But the Russians say they have proposals of their own. This at least keeps the ball in the air - but the cut-off point seems to be the referendum.

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    No it is not my view of the UK Tim.

    For the simple reason neither BNP or EDL control key positions within the UK Gov't, or its agencies such as Defence, Intelligence, Internal Security and Police.

    And nor do BNP or EDL have the blessings and support of the U.S and EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    "Which ever way you view it Russia will likely win the vote for Crimea this Sunday. Even though it may not be recognised by others Russia will not care as its a democratic choice."

    There's nothing democratic about a referendum at gunpoint.

    Putin should get a grip on reality. If the whole world says you're wrong, chances are you're wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    @136 BobTheCrate:

    The extreme right-wing groups in Ukraine are a small minority. If their existence and activity makes Ukraine a 'fascist' country, then the existence and activities of the BNP and EDL make the UK a fascist country too.

    Is that your view of the UK?

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    People still seem to hate Russia more than they hate self acknowledged Nazis who are now consolidating the power they seized in Europe's 2nd largest geographical country.

    And with the blessings of both the U.S and EU.

    This is 2014. You couldn't make it up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    Ironically, Putin appears more like a Soviet leader than Gorbachev ever did...

    It was inevitable that Russia would rise again after the collapse of the USSR. Putin's plan seems to have been: fix the broken economy first (pretty much done) then go back to the old Soviet foreign policy.

    Soon we'll all be living in the Second Cold War. Renewing Trident is feeling like a better idea all the time...

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    Which ever way you view it Russia will likely win the vote for Crimea this Sunday. Even though it may not be recognised by others Russia will not care as its a democratic choice. Based on the history of the Balkans I would say the US/West have now met their match. Further sanctions will just sour relationships at government level and this will have a worldwide affect to defence budgets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    #132 Stewart. Would you support Bradford wanting to become a province of Pakistan? There's more 'ethnic Pakistanis' there than any other group. Surely they have the same democratic right.

    Incidentally whats democratic about 16,000 armed men on the street? The Russians won't even explain who the hell they are. To my eye Spetnaz. FAR too confident and well equipped for some 'militia'

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    @126 Random16

    Yet another factually false comment.

    Firstly,if you had actually spent the time checking up on the kosovan conflict you would have noticed that it was the KLA who started attacking the police facilities and serbian law enforcement in the kosovan region in 1995 and only after that did the serbian army enter the region.

    Independence is the crimean`s own DEMOCRATIC right!


  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    re. 128.Alasdair Campbell
    "Russia has witnessed the inexorable advance eastwards, towards their new western frontier of the EU and NATO. Having been invaded ...she remains sensitive to what she perceives to be a threat to her territory."

    This has nothing to do with Russian sensitivity to NATO or what language is spoken in Crimea. This is about control of Russia's only Black Sea naval base.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    128. Alasdair Campbell
    Since the fall of the USSR and with it the 'Iron Curtain', Russia has witnessed the inexorable advance eastwards, towards their new western frontier of the EU and NATO.
    They wouldn't have HAD to move eastwards if Russia hadn't occupied the whole of Eastern Europe at the end of WW2! Remember the year before 1941 it was Russia invaded E.Poland & Finland.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    This whole crisis has been a goldmine of hypocritical statements, delivered always with a straight face (by both the 'West' and Russia). I'm sick of all these 'diplomatic' shenanigans. Russia's a disgusting bully and the 'West' is only slightly better. Why is geopolitics the only driving force of foreign policy for all nations?

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    Since the fall of the USSR and with it the 'Iron Curtain', Russia has witnessed the inexorable advance eastwards, towards their new western frontier of the EU and NATO. Having been invaded from the West before (eg 1812 & 1941) she remains sensitive to what she perceives to be a threat to her territory. Crimea and with it control of the Black Sea are part of this equation. She will not give them up

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    The main way to get back at Russia is through economic warfare. They think they can trump us with gas and other resources. They are mostly wrong. It's also time for the other powers to do some naval "exercises" in the Black Sea, to humiliate the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Sanctions against Russia's rich and elite will also hit below the belt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    A number of commenters are citing the "Kosovo Precedent". The situation is quite different. The Serbs were committing all kinds of atrocities against the population in Kosovo, notably the Muslim population, which amounted to Genocide. Commanders of the Serb Army are on trial in the Hague.

    Ukraine has committed no such atrocities. The referendum is illegitimate and the US positioning correct.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    Neither the US nor Russia is being smart over this. Putin shouldn't be living in the past regarding Russia's relationship with the Ukraine and the US is surely going to have to bend slightly on Putin's refusal to talk to the Kiev government!

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    When the US humbled the Russians interests in the Balkans, by ignoring them over Bosnia and later (and more importantly) Kosovo they made a rod for their own back that is being wielded now. You reap what you sow in international politics ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    This make shift undemocratic Ukraine Government has the weakest hand. South Ukraine of Crimea is virtually Russian already, it's what the people want. There's nothing that can be done about it. It's like a divorce when one wants out, then it's all over.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Crimean have two choices when voting , join Russia now or later.

    The ballot paper for the contest, which was published by parliament, disclosed that Crimean voters will be given two options: either immediate “reunification” with Russia, or adopting the “1992 constitution” — which gives parliament the power to vote to join Russia.

    There is no option for autonomy with Ukraine

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    Putin on Kosovo precedent in 2008 "In the end,this is a stick with two ends and the other end will come back to knock them on the head someday." Sunday is that day!

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Pleasantly surprised. A much better standard of discussion than the usual on HYS. Perhaps the anti west lobby are not up yet (four legs good Olegs better). We shouldn't view the Ukraine situation through cold war spectacles. Back the Kyiv/Kiev interim government with initiatives on the table counteracting ethnic scaremongering to justify splitting the country and deep freezing the developed world.


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