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U.S., Russia deadlock on next move in Ukraine crisis

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By The Washington Post
Monday, March 31, 2014, 1:21 a.m.

PARIS — The United States and Russia reached no agreement on Sunday about how to defuse the crisis over Russia's annexation of a Ukrainian territory and its massing of troops for possible further moves against the neighboring country, but they agreed to continue talking.

Tens of thousands of Russian forces poised near eastern Ukraine are “creating a climate of fear and intimidation in Ukraine” and raising questions about Russia's next move and its commitment to diplomacy, Secretary of State John Kerry said after several hours of talks with Russia's top diplomat.

“We have some ideas. We have proposals that both sides made,” Kerry said, but he acknowledged that the United States cannot force Russia to pull back its forces.

“The troops are in Russia. They are on Russian soil,” Kerry said. “The question is not one of right or legality; the question is one of strategic appropriateness and whether it is smart at this moment in time to have that number of troops massed on the border when you're trying to send a message that you want to de-escalate.”

It was clear that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had made no promises about pulling troops back from the border and that Russia has no intention of withdrawing from Crimea, the strategic Black Sea territory it annexed two weeks ago.

But both nations support diplomatic solutions and “meeting the needs of the Ukrainian population,” Kerry said.

Lavrov said at a briefing that the discussion was “very, very constructive” and that he and Kerry agreed to work with the Ukrainian government to improve rights for Russian-speaking Ukrainians and disarm “irregular forces and provocateurs.”

The United States and Russia were seeking to calm a bitter confrontation that has included the toughest economic penalties on Russia since the end of the Cold War.

At stake is the rising war of words between the West and Russia over the military incursion and annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. The United States does not recognize the annexation, but it is unlikely to be reversed soon.

Kerry and Lavrov's talks were focused less on Crimea and more on preventing further confrontation. For the United States, that means stopping Russian military moves where they are.

The Obama administration believes the sanctions are biting, and that Russia is trying to prevent further economic penalties. The United States and the European Union have threatened penalties if Russia invades eastern Ukraine.

The Pentagon said the top general in Europe has been sent back early from a trip to Washington because of Russia's “lack of transparency” about troop movements along the Ukraine border.

Gen. Philip Breedlove, who is NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe and head of the military's European Command, arrived in Europe on Saturday evening. He had been scheduled to testify before Congress this week.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel “made the decision Friday evening amidst growing uncertainty in Ukraine,” said Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman.

“While it does not foreshadow imminent military action in Ukraine, the general's return will allow him more time” and flexibility, Kirby said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had proposed the Kerry-Lavrov meeting on Friday in a surprise phone call to President Obama. Wary officials said the outreach was welcome but that there has been no sign that Russia is taking steps to pull forces from along its border with Ukraine, as the West has demanded.

Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, said on Sunday that Russia has no intention of withdrawing from Crimea.

“Crimea is a part of (the)Russian Federation,” Kislyak said in an interview on ABC's “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”

Kerry went into the meeting with low expectations. Officials said they did not expect quick agreement on the main issues dividing Washington and Moscow, but Kerry clearly hoped to defuse tensions somewhat before a meeting of NATO nations this week. The gathering of foreign ministers is not expected to include Russia and will be dominated by the Ukraine crisis.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said troop movements show Putin is “absolutely not looking for a way out” of recent tension.

Rogers said Russia has moved some of its advanced equipment into South Ossetia, a disputed region near the border of Georgia and Russia.



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