Kerry, Lavrov meet as Crimea vote looms

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in London on Friday as the crisis in Crimea comes to a head.

The majority-Russian peninsula in southern Ukraine is scheduled to hold a referendum Sunday on whether to secede and attempt to become a part of Russia. The United States and its European allies, as well as the new Ukrainian government, have characterized the referendum as illegal.

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The two will be meeting at Winfield House, the official home of the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. The neutral meeting site follows Kerry's refusal of an invitation from Russia to visit Moscow for negotiations.

According to The Guardian, diplomats do not see the talks as likely to produce a diplomatic breakthrough. No peace plan has been sketched out in advance, and the two lead negotiators have already spoken by phone almost daily during the crisis and failed to find much common ground.

Lavrov's opening statement prior to the meeting acknowledged the challenging situation.

"This is a difficult situation we are in," he said through an interpreter. "This is a difficult situation we are in. Many events have happened and a lot of time has been lost, so now we have to think what can be done."

Instead, leaders have prioritized getting the Russians and Ukrainians to at least begin negotiations.

“We want to see Ukrainians and the Russians talking to each other. And if they don't, then there are going to have to be consequences,” British Prime Minister David Cameron told Kerry in a pre-negotiations meeting, according to The Guardian.

Even getting that far has proven difficult, with the two countries engaged in an escalating war of words. Russia has deployed thousands of troops along the Ukrainian border and conducted military exercises in the area, while on Thursday Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of “military aggression” while speaking before the U.N. Security Council.

Several European leaders have ratcheted up their rhetoric against Russia in recent days, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying on Thursday that Russia's actions would bring “massive damage” upon itself. However, she ruled out the use of military force to check Russia.

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