By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
Secretary of State John Kerry says a referendum on the future of Ukraine’s Crimean region is effectively a backdoor annexation of Crimea into Russia.
Kerry met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for in-depth and constructive talks for “a good six hours” on March 14 about Ukraine, whose Crimean region is voting March 16 on its future. The meeting was held at Winfield House in London, which is the official residence of the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. The two foreign ministers previously held extensive talks in Paris and Rome.
The United States entered the talks to ask Russia to have the Crimea referendum postponed and select other diplomatic options. Western nations proposed a contact group of nations to discuss solutions to the crisis.
President Obama in Washington March 14 warned Russian leaders not only that the United States and Europe stand united for Ukrainian sovereignty, but also that there will be consequences if that sovereignty continues to be violated.
Lavrov told Kerry that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not make any decision about the future of Crimea until after the referendum is held, Kerry said.
During a briefing, Kerry told journalists that if Russia’s parliament ratifies a Crimea referendum vote, it would amount to a “backdoor annexation. That is a decision of enormous consequence with respect to the global community.”
“It would be against international law and, frankly, fly in the face of every legitimate effort to try to reach out to Russia and others to say there is a different way to protect the interests of Crimeans, to protect Russia’s interests and to respect the integrity of Ukraine and the sovereignty of Ukraine,” Kerry noted.
Crimean voters will decide on one of two choices: become a separate region and reunite with Russia, or become a separate region with autonomous powers based on the 1992 Crimean constitution. Remaining part of Ukraine is not an option. However, the 1992 Crimean Constitution established Crimea as an independent state linked to, but not part of Ukraine. Any referendum on Crimea must be conducted in a manner consistent with Ukrainian law. The Ukrainian Constitution requires an all-Ukraine national referendum to alter the territory of Ukraine. According to the constitution, relations between Crimea and Ukraine are governed by international treaty and not domestic Ukrainian law.
Crimea, with a population of 2 million people that is largely Russian, is a southeastern peninsula that connects with Russia and faces onto the Black Sea.
Western nations had encouraged Putin’s government to begin direct talks with the new government in Kyiv to de-escalate the crisis. The Russian government has rejected a diplomatic resolution, Kerry told journalists.