After US Secretary of State John Kerry met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Sunday, Russia called for the US to back greater independence for Ukraine's Russian-speaking regions in a federation.
Kerry and Lavrov met in the lavish residence of the Russian ambassador to France, seeking to hammer out a plan to end the crisis that was sparked when Moscow sent troops into Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula after the pro-Kremlin Kiev regime fell in February.
Lavrov said that he and Kerry agreed on the necessity to seek “points of tangency” with the US on the crisis.
But Kerry told a news conference that the US made clear it still considered Russian actions in Crimea to be "illegal and illegitimate".
"The US and Russia have differences of opinion about events that led to this crisis but both of us recognise the importance of finding a diplomatic solution and simultaneously meeting the needs of the Ukrainian people, and that we agreed on tonight," Kerry said.
"Both sides made suggestions of ways to de-escalate the security and political situation in and around Ukraine," he said.
Despite a massive troop build-up on Ukraine's borders, Lavrov has insisted Moscow has "absolutely no intention and no interest in crossing the Ukrainian border".
But he called on Western powers on Sunday to back a proposal for Ukraine's Russian-speaking regions to have greater powers in a "federal" and neutral Ukraine.
“We can't see any other way to ensure the stable development of Ukraine but to sign a federal agreement,'' Lavrov said, adding that he understood the United States was open to the idea.
US officials have been coy about their position on a federation and insist that any changes to Ukraine's governing structure must be acceptable to the Ukrainians.
Ukrainian officials are wary of decentralising power, fearing that its pro-Russia regions would oppose its Western aspirations and further divide the country.
Lavrov said the proposed "federal structure" would allow for greater regional autonomy and would bring "all Ukrainian political forces without exception, naturally excluding armed radicals" into the decision-making process.
Moscow's plan would also allow parts of Ukraine to declare Russian to be a second official language and secure more independence from Kiev – a move some analysts view as a bid to weaken the authority of what is likely to be a permanently pro-Western leadership.
The Ukrainian foreign ministry responded by calling on Moscow to stop pushing its “ultimatums”.
"We would like to urge Russia, before it presses its ultimatums on a sovereign and independent nation, to take note of the catastrophic state and complete powerlessness of its own ethnic minorities, including Ukrainians," it said in a statement.
The latest negotiations to resolve the worst East-West standoff in the post-Cold War era come after Russian President Vladimir Putin called US President Barack Obama late Friday to discuss a possible diplomatic resolution to the crisis.
US officials say the proposals Kerry and Lavrov are discussing include political and constitutional reforms for Ukraine as well as plans for the disarmament of its volunteer regional militias, allowing international monitors to ensure the rights of minorities and the start of a direct dialogue between Moscow and Kiev.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-03-29