Kerry-Putin meeting postponed

A planned face-to-face meeting Monday between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian President Vladimir Putin has been postponed, indicating the leaders remain far apart on a diplomatic deal to the crisis in Ukraine.

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The meeting would have been the first in-person communication between the U.S. and the Russian president since the Kremlin moved troops into the ethnically Russian Crimea region late last month.

"We suggested that he come today, I think, and we were prepared to receive him. He gave his preliminary consent. He then called me on Saturday and said he would like to postpone it for a while," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Putin in a meeting broadcast on Russian state television, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Lavrov said a proposal on Ukraine presented by Kerry during talks in Rome last week had been a nonstarter, including unacceptable demands including that Moscow recognize the new government that took power after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia.

"The document contains an approach which doesn't quite suit us, as the entire wording suggests there is a conflict between Russia and Ukraine," Lavrov said.

Still, Lavrov said Russian officials were preparing "counterproposals" that "aim to resolve the situation."

At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney stressed that there was an "off ramp" available to Putin.

"We are happy to work with the Russian government and international partners to make sure that there are monitors on the ground in Crimea and in other parts of Ukraine to make sure that ethnic Russians have their rights protected and that any violation of those rights will be reported internationally," Carney said.

"That's the way to address these concerns if those are the concerns that motivated the Russian government to take action that's in clear violation of international law."

Putin and other Russian leaders have voiced concerns that the new Ukrainian government, led by pro-European leaders, could target Russian nationals in the country's Eastern regions.

The White House has dismissed that threat as unfounded, but said it would work to soothe Moscow's concerns.

Carney also issued a series of warnings and threats intended to increase pressure on the Kremlin.

The White House spokesman said it was "hard to imagine" that the G-8 summit scheduled for June in Sochi, Russia, would happen.

"What I can tell you is no one is preparing for a G-8 right now because of the actions that Russia has taken," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. "And it just so happens that Russia is meant to host the G-8 this year. So, you know, we'll see how this transpires but absent any preparations it's hard to imagine a G-8 happening."

Carney also said flatly that the United States would not recognize a referendum scheduled for Sunday in which residents of Crimea would vote to leave Ukraine and join Russia.

"What I can tell you is that it will not be viewed by the United States as legitimate because it is inconsistent with the Ukrainian constitution, which makes clear that any change in Ukraine's borders has to be decided by all of Ukraine," Carney said.

"So Russia needs to avail itself of the opportunity here to work with international partners and the government of Ukraine to resolve this issue diplomatically and peacefully," he added.

But Carney acknowledged that he could not "predict the future" and say whether U.S. efforts to prevent the referendum through international pressure would succeed.

Carney also warned that the administration was "actively engaged" in examining how to use a sanctions framework announced by President Obama last week. Under the executive order, the administration can identify individuals and entities it deems as working to undermine sovereignty of Ukraine. But the U.S. government had not placed individuals on that list last week, and Carney said he had no update on Monday.

"But we are actively engaged in examining the ways that those authorities can be used and would, obviously, have available to use that executive order and the flexibility it provides to take further action as events on the ground demand," Carney said.

The White House cautioned Putin against possible disruptions to Russia's oil and natural gas shipments into Europe. Nearly a third of European oil is imported from Russia.

"Let's be clear, because this has been a much-discussed topic, that any disruption to Russia's energy shipments to Ukraine and through Ukraine to Europe, is a lose-lose situation for everyone, most particularly for Russia," Carney said. "Russia is heavily dependent on Europe and Ukraine as critical export markets for its natural gas, earning some $50 billion per year through these sales."

Obama plans to meet with Ukraine's new prime minister in Washington on Wednesday in a move designed to show U.S. backing for the new government.