By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
After meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Paris, Secretary of State John Kerry says they agreed that the crisis in Ukraine requires a diplomatic resolution and that further talks must include the Ukrainians.
Kerry emphasized that “diplomacy has a critical role to play in helping the people of Ukraine to achieve their goal of living in dignity and in a stable, peaceful and unified democracy.”
During a four-hour meeting with Lavrov, Kerry said he made it clear that the United States still considers the Russian actions in the Crimean Peninsula “to be illegal and illegitimate.” Kerry also said that the “Russians’ actions over the past several weeks have placed it at odds, obviously, with the rule of law and the international community, and we still believe on the wrong side of history.”
The U.N. General Assembly, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Group of Seven major economies condemned Russia’s aggressive acts in the Crimean region of Ukraine.
The OSCE Permanent Council decided in a special session on Ukraine March 21 to deploy an OSCE Special Monitoring Mission of international observers to Ukraine with the aim of helping reduce tensions and fostering peace, stability and security, OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter said in Bern, Switzerland.
Kerry flew to Paris to meet with Lavrov at the Russian ambassador’s residence March 30 after Russian President Vladimir Putin called President Obama to discuss the situation in Ukraine two days earlier. During the call, Obama also urged Putin to withdraw tens of thousands of Russian combat soldiers from the border it shares with Ukraine, according to the White House.
“The United States is consulting with Ukraine at every step of this process, and we will not accept a path forward where the legitimate government of Ukraine is not at the table,” Kerry told journalists. “This principle is clear: No decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine.”
Before his meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, Kerry spoke with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to repeat the United States’ commitment to coordinate closely with Ukraine and to sustain support throughout this process.
Both the United States and Russia offered suggestions on how to de-escalate the security and political crisis in and around Ukraine, Kerry said. According to the secretary, they agreed to work with the Ukrainian government to implement steps that they already are taking to meet certain priorities, including these:
• Protecting the rights of national minorities.
• Securing language rights.
• Demobilizing and disarming irregular forces and what they called provocateurs.
• Ensuring an inclusive constitutional reform process.
• Holding free and fair elections monitored by the international community.
Kerry also told journalists that any real progress in Ukraine must include a pullback of the large Russian military force massed along Ukraine’s borders. Kerry said that “these forces are creating a climate of fear and intimidation in Ukraine.”
For its part, Lavrov told journalists, Russia seeks to create a loose federation of Ukrainian regions where each chooses its own economic, financial, social, linguistic and religious governing models. Kerry said it is not up to the United States and Russia to make decisions regarding federalization for Ukraine.
“It’s up to Ukrainians, and Ukrainians will decide their future for themselves, by themselves, with respect to what kind of definitions work for them,” Kerry said.