John Kerry announced that he would not discuss the future of Ukraine without its presence in negotiations. “Mr Kerry said he told Mr Lavrov that the US still considered Russia’s takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea region to be “illegal and illegitimate”.
He said he had stressed that no decision on Ukraine’s future could be made without Kiev’s involvement.
Earlier Mr Lavrov set out demands for a neutral and federal Ukraine.
Mr Kerry told a news conference in Paris: “We will not accept a path forward where the legitimate government of Ukraine is not at the table.
But Bridget Kendall, the diplomatic correspondent of the BBC says that despite the bold words and ostensibly having nothing to talk about Kerry and Lavrov did a lot of talking and the difference in the body language between the two foreign secretaries was suggestive.
Mr Kerry’s description of what should be up for discussion covered quite a lot on Russia’s wish list: rights for national minorities, language rights, the disarmament of irregular forces and inclusive constitutional reform, including – most importantly – the idea of federalising Ukraine.
No wonder Sergei Lavrov looked satisfied and called the talks “very very constructive”, while John Kerry just looked tired. It’s true the Americans are insisting that all negotiations must be subject to the approval of the government in Kiev – which has already dismissed the idea of federalism as unacceptable. But if the issue is on the table, from Russia’s point of view, that is the first step.
In other ways, too, Mr Kerry seemed less than forceful: Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s border were “intimidating” and “inappropriate” but he admitted they were on Russian soil so legally there could be no demand they were moved. And he made no American call for Russian troops to be pulled back in Crimea, or for the annexed territory to be returned to Ukraine. The impression left was that Washington is bending over backwards in its search for a diplomatic solution to stop this crisis getting worse.
Lavrov conveyed the impression that Kerry and he had discussed some things after all. Kerry was going to go and ask Kiev to quit persecuting Russian-speaking Ukrainians. “Lavrov said he and Kerry did agree to work with the Ukrainian government to improve rights for Russian-speaking Ukrainians and disarm ‘irregular forces and provocateurs.’”