Ukraine talks end in stalemate

Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday failed to defuse the escalating crisis in Ukraine.

After a six-hour meeting with Lavrov, Kerry said Russian President Vladimir Putin wouldn’t make a decision about Ukraine until after Crimea’s referendum Sunday on secession.

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“We don’t know definitively what President Putin will decide,” Kerry told reporters. "I would say to him today: That is a decision of enormous consequences with respect to the global community.”

He said Russia will face consequences if it violates Ukraine’s sovereignty and pursues a “back-door annexation” of Crimea.

In a separate press conference, Lavrov said Russia and the United States do not share a “common vision” on the Ukraine dispute but called the talks “useful.”

The diplomatic meeting was the second between Kerry and Lavrov, following another discussion last week in Paris.

Kerry appeared to slightly walk back the threat of sanctions against Russia if a diplomatic opportunity develops. He cautioned, however, that there will be a response from the U.S. that will be “calibrated accordingly” if the referendum happens.

White House press secretary Jay Carney vowed the U.S. would respond "quickly" should the referendum go forward on Sunday.

"Russia has violated its commitments. It has violated international law," Carney said.

The White House spokesman said it was "regrettable" that Russian leaders had not chosen to deescalate the situation or voice opposition to the secession referendum, adding that it had become "pretty late in the game."

"That referendum — as Secretary Kerry, President Obama and so many others here in Washington and around the world have made clear — is not legitimate — will not be legitimate," Carney said. "Its results will not carry the weight of law because the referendum itself is inconsistent with and in violation of the Ukrainian constitution."

Kerry said he and Lavrov engaged in a “very in-depth, constructive” dialogue about how to address the situation in Ukraine, and will both stay in touch in the coming days.

Their meeting comes just two days before Ukraine’s peninsula of Crimea holds a referendum to decide whether to secede and join Russia. The region's population consists of an ethnic Russian majority.

Russia will respect the will of Crimeans in their referendum on Sunday, said Lavrov, who reportedly rejected the idea of a U.S.-European Union contact group to find a diplomatic solution.

Despite the lack of cooperation, Lavrov assured Kerry Russia would not invade southeastern Ukraine, even though troops were dispatched to the border a day earlier for military exercises.

“I raised very clearly the increased anxiety that is created within Ukraine as a consequence of this,” Kerry said about the troop movements.

“All of us would like to see actions, not words,” added Kerry, who said Russia needs “a more declarative policy” regarding its military’s purpose in Ukraine.

Leaders of the G-7 — the U.S., United Kingdom, Germany, France, Japan, Canada and Italy  — warned this week that an annexation of Crimea by Russia would not be recognized and would be deemed illegal.  

“There will be consequences if Russia does not find a way to change course. We don’t say that as a threat. We say that as a direct consequence of what decision Russia does or does not choose to make here,” Kerry warned.

Kerry offered Russia a number of diplomatic proposals, including a withdrawal of their forces from Ukraine. Lavrov said he would present the ideas to Putin. 

After the press conference, Kerry said he would brief Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and EU members on the talks.

Kerry met with British Prime Minister David Cameron and his British counterpart Foreign Secretary William Hague ahead of the meeting with Lavrov. Cameron has joined EU members in calling for sanctions against Russia.

Kerry emphasized the “gravity of the breach of international standard and international law” by Russia could influence other countries to act similarly.

“There are many places where people might take the wrong lesson from that," he said. "I think many people are concerned about that.”

— This story was updated at 3:26 p.m.

Justin Sink contributed.

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