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Tensions Rise in Crimea Amid Diplomatic Efforts

  • Al Pessin

International efforts to defuse the situation in Ukraine will continue Thursday after a series of meetings Wednesday that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said made some progress. Meanwhile, tension over Russia's military moves boiled over in parts of eastern Ukraine.

While the diplomats met in Paris, it was a day of heightened tensions in Ukraine, where the standoff between supporters and opponents of Russia’s military moves evolved into shouting and shoving. In one incident in Crimea, a pro-Russian crowd set upon a special United Nations envoy, Robert Serry. He was not injured but was forced to take refuge in a café, and then cut his visit short.

A pro-Russian crowd also surged into government offices in the eastern Ukraine town of Donetsk.

While that was taking place, top Western, Ukrainian and Russia diplomats held a day-long series of meetings in Paris. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said all parties, including Russia, want a peaceful solution to the situation in Ukraine.

Kerry said expectations of a meeting Wednesday between the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers were unrealistic. The top U.S. diplomat said he will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov again Thursday on the sidelines of an international conference in Rome, to pursue what Kerry called some “creative and appropriate” ideas.

“I don’t think any of us had an anticipation that we were coming here in this moment, in this atmosphere of heightened tension and confrontation, that we were suddenly going to resolve that here this afternoon,” said Kerry.

Secretary Kerry said Russia can de-escalate the situation in Ukraine if it chooses to do so.

Foreign Minister Lavrov did not appear with Kerry, but earlier, during a visit to Madrid, he accused western nations of trying to meddle in the Ukraine-Russia relationship. Lavrov said the West is trying to gain some advantage in Ukraine, and called the policy “not serious,” and part of a “game.”

The foreign minister in Ukraine’s interim government, Andrii Deshchytsia, was also in Paris to consult with his Western counterparts before they met with Lavrov. He said the future of Ukraine and the entire region is at stake.

“It was an aggression by the Russian side on Crimea, but now we have to think about the way out, and way out not only for Ukraine, but way out and future of Russia, how Russia will deal with what Russia did to Ukraine,” said Deshchytsia.

Any direct discussion of that will have to wait for another day.

While reaching out to Russia, Western nations are also taking steps to punish it for its military moves in Ukraine’s Crimea region. European Union leaders will hold a summit on Thursday to consider sanctions against Russia and other steps to push for a withdrawal from Ukraine.

At NATO headquarters in Brussels Wednesday, alliance ambassadors met with their Russian counterpart to inform him of a series of steps, including an effort to build Ukraine's military capacity through training, exercises and projects to develop its capabilities.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance will cancel the first joint NATO-Russia military operation, impose a ban on high-level contacts with Russia and conduct a full review of the relationship. He noted that other organizations and individual countries are taking steps as well.

“Altogether this will send a very clear message to Russia that they must de-escalate tensions,” said Rasmussen.

Rasmussen said the Western approach is a combination of punishment and a readiness for dialogue, which he hopes will bring the crisis to a peaceful end.
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