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

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  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Please don't assume that the majority Crimean population want to be controlled by Russia. There are armed Cossacks, mystery heavily armed RUSSIAN soldiers and even the odd Serb arranging road blocks. The pro Russian pensioners (in the majority) are free to stage their demonstrations with fire power in support while anyone with an alternatively of view are too scared to voice an opinion

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Russia looks after the interests of Russians and Russia. This is a paradox for Western leadership as it simply doesn't fit the new globalised wonderful world we've been sold for 20 years and guess who owns the energy supply?

    Perhaps next they will legitimately declare the annexation of the 'new oblast of Kensington and knightsbridge'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Over the past 75 years history has taught us it has been impossible to trust the Russian leaders with the notable exception of Gorbachov.
    Stalin sighed a non aggression pact with Germany and then when Russia was invaded he sought help from the West. Putin is no different Ex KGB still KGB Russia is his personal domain and he does as he likes, within international law or not. He cannot be trusted

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Original lead reports from the Beeb told us many thousands of indiginous people were shipped away from Crimea by Stalin and he effectively back-filled with russians. If true then no wonder the majority there want russian rule. But wouldnt that make this move colonialism albeit communist-style?

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Put Telly Tubby Alex Salmond into the Negotions .....He likes scweaming and shouting and saying everyones a Bully ....Putin would soon back down an Negotiate .....Jobs a good un......Oh and by the way i used to hold Robert Peston as the Harbringer of doom ....The Torch is now yours ....BBC Reporting at its most Scaremongering ...Yet again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Putin is doing the EU a favour. I strongly suspect the bulk of Ukranian debt, is in the Eastern Industrialised sector. Divide the country along the lines it wants to split, Putin can have the broke half, and we'll have the other, with the Gangsters, Neo-Nazis,Crooks, Pimps and Drug traffickers we seem so keen on.It is not as cut and dried as certain media portals would have us believe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    This is like the England, in the face of a YES vote win, sending the troops in to occupy The Borders, Glasgow and the nuke bases 'by invitation', then holding a (rigged?) referendum next week to call this England Forever (as Humanitarian Assistance). The Crimeans would probably prefer to be Independent too if they were asked.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    The American administration detests diplomacy, which is why they shut the door to it at the first opportunity. They are the cause of this situation with their policy of global regime change to suit their needs. They are not there to represent the American people, that much is clear. They serve another agenda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    No doubt buoyed up by beating up Pussy Riot at Sochi, Putin invades a sovereign country, but at least he had his cloths on.

    I pay tribute to the people of the Ukraine and their brave army, who want nothing more than to live in a democratic country, free from the endemic corruption and brutality of Putin.

    The fact that wealthy Russians keep their money in Western banks tells it own story.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    @5 DaveJ
    They are involved as they are co signatories to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, the treaty that is meant to stop this happening. So is Russia.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Russia is simply not negotiating. They must be confronted now with severe political and economic sanctions. All appeasers must understand that the danger is that Putin will overplay his hand, lose control of the situation, and cause a military conflict. Appeasing him now INCREASES that risk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    This is the 'complete set of annexation tools 2014' including the best of 'annexation 1956,1968 & Georgia Heavy'. Its based on 'you wont use force so stop us!' & is the response to the ousting of the pro-Russian puppet in Ukraine. It is an invitation to use armed forces, which wont happen because of historical outcomes. The precedents being set here are a global concern.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.


    "WW3 must be avoided"

    Sorry but how will this be avoided though appeasement?

    Dictators will only respond to things which hurt them personally. They care nothing for others.

    History teaches us many things, if we're prepared to remove our blinkers and look.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Leaving aside the preposterous haste with which the Crimean referendum is being arranged, it's obvious that the atmosphere is one of intimidation and violence. No one in the world, except Putin's government and the so-called Crimean authorities, would accept the result of such a referendum. Quite obviously, the referendum should not go ahead. Russian needs to stop acting like a bully.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I cannot understand why the British and Americans are getting so involved with Ukraine unless they have there own political and business agenda. Europe is offering to lend them billions of pounds at a time when people are losing their jobs and taking pay cuts and we will not get that money back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    The fact that Putin continues to deny the obvious fact that Russian troops are strengthening their position in Crimea should be an indication what response we should expect to the brief from Kerry.

    If any other country in the world other than Russia was carrying this out western forces would have already been deployed to protect Crimea.

    The west is scared and rightly so, WW3 must be avoided.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Russia was wrong to go into Crimea as they did but it is clear that the population there do want to become part of Russia. A referendum in Crimea is now about to take place. Both East and West should accept the result of that when it come through. In the mean time, the West needs to calm things down and start talking. This is in danger of getting out of control.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Don't think we need Xray glasses to see the Russians are stringing the west along while they consolidate their position in Crimea.
    Its over. Done , complete, Kaput.
    Out maneuvered. Did nobody in British or American intelligence see this coming? of course they did. Half a friend is better than no friend!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Adding comments here serves no purpose as all the Trolls will again hijack this debate to slag off the west.

    It is obvious we need to stand up against Russian aggression but I know this is unlikely

    I send my apologies to the people of Ukraine. We are not all like those who have commented before. We wish you well and I hope Putin et al will see enough reason to pull out of your land


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