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U.S., Russia Fail To Bridge Differences Over Crimea

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) and US Secretary of State John Kerry stand together before a meeting in London on March 14.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) and US Secretary of State John Kerry stand together before a meeting in London on March 14.
Russia says Moscow and Washington have divergent views on Ukraine as the United States warned it would not recognize the outcome of a referendum on Crimea joining Russia.

Speaking in London on March 14 after talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there were still differences between the two sides.

"As to the practical measures that foreign countries, foreign partners of Ukraine could take, we do not share a common view of the situation," he said. "Disagreements remain but, of course, the conversation was definitively useful, so that we can better understand each other in this situation."

Lavrov said Russia will respect the will of the inhabitants of Crimea in the referendum on March 16.

"We have already said through President [Vladimir] Putin's statement, that we will respect the choice of the Crimean people, or Crimean peoples, because there are several [peoples] there," he said. "And we will state our attitude towards the results of the referendum when the results are known. The Crimean parliament has adopted the declaration which stated the independence already and expressed the hope that the Crimeans will confirm that at the referendum."

However, Kerry, speaking separately after the talks, said the United States and the international community will not recognize the results of the Crimea referendum, which he said amounted to a "backdoor annexation" of the Ukrainian region.

Kerry said the conclusion after six hours of talks with Lavrov was that Russian President Vladimir Putin will decide a course of action only after the vote in the Crimean peninsula.

"After much discussion, [Russian] Foreign Minister [Sergei Lavrov] made it clear that President Putin is not prepared to make any decision regarding Ukraine, until after the referendum on Sunday [March 16]," he said.

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Kerry added that he and Lavrov have agreed to stay in touch in the coming days, but made it clear that Russia risked "consequences."

Lavrov described the threat of possible international sanctions as "counterproductive," and added that Moscow does not intend to send troops into Ukraine.

"The Russian Federation has no plans to invade the southeastern regions of Ukraine and cannot have [such plans]," he said. "We are confident that the rights of Russians, the rights of Hungarians, the rights of Bulgarians, as well as the [rights] of the Ukrainians must certainly be guaranteed and protected."

Earlier at the White House, U.S. President Barack Obama said he continues to hope that the Ukraine situation can be resolved diplomatically, but also warned of potential measures against Russia if no such solution is found reached.

"We continue to hope that there is a diplomatic solution to be found, but the United States and Europe stand united not only in its message about Ukrainian sovereignty, but also that there will be consequences if, in fact, that sovereignty continues to be violated," Obama said.

Late on March 14, clashes between bands of pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian demonstrators were reported in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

Local reports quoted the local prosecutor as saying two people had been killed, although their identities were unclear.

The reports were accompanied by video footage of gunfire and explosions.

They said Russian nationalists had attacked a group of offices, including one belonging to a Ukrainian cultural association.

The reported violence comes a day after one protester was killed in the eastern city of Donetsk in clashes between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian demonstrators as tensions rise in eastern Ukraine.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters and ITAR-TASS
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