STATE DEPARTMENT — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry travels to London Thursday for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the crisis in Ukraine.
During the trip, Kerry is going to make clear why Russian leaders should choose a political solution to the crisis in Ukraine.
"We will offer certain choices to Foreign Minister Lavrov, and to President Putin through him and to Russia with hopes, and I think the hopes of the world, that we will be able to find a way forward that diffuses this and finds a way to respect the integrity and sovereignty of the state of Ukraine," said Kerry.
With some U.S. lawmakers calling for tougher action against Russia, Kerry said U.S. national security is better served by offering Moscow a way out of this crisis.
"We don't think that anybody is more served, better served, not for the interests of our efforts in Iran, not for the interests of our efforts in Syria, not for the interests of our efforts with nuclear weapons or Afghanistan or many other places, by isolating Russia. But we will do what we have to do if Russia cannot find the way to make the right choices here," said Kerry.
The talks come just days before Crimea votes on whether to formally leave Ukraine, following the collapse of the pro-Russian government in Kyiv. U.S. and European leaders say Sunday's referendum is unconstitutional, but Russian officials say Crimea has the right to self-determination.
"There is a real hysteria in some Western states as they claim that the referendum is illegal, that its results won't be accepted by the international community. To put it mildly, this is all untrue and misinformation,” said Russian Federation Council Head Valentina Matviyenko.
This referendum could lead to Crimea joining the Russian Federation. With Russian and Crimean militia strengthening positions on the Black Sea peninsula, some former Soviet republics see renewed Russian expansion.
"Countries might be asking who is next? And in that sense the very strict, very prompt response to the actions is extremely, extremely, important," said Marina Kaljurand, the Estonian Ambassador to the United States.
In such a tense atmosphere, Sunday's referendum may not change much one way or the other, pointed out American University professor Keith Darden.
"I think we all recognize that this is a difficult time for Crimea. But this referendum is not a way to resolve this issue, and I don't think any side is really going to recognize this as a clear resolution. We might even be able to persuade the Russians to hold back on that," said Darden.
It could provide an opening with President Putin that Washington should pursue, noted Darden.
"If Putin has this in his back pocket, in other words there has been an illegitimate referendum that is expressing an interest in joining the Russian Federation, that might just give him the comfort of negotiating away from that position while saving face. And so he could appear a better statesman, essentially," he said.
President Putin has so far refused to recognize the new government in Kyiv and claims he is acting to protect Russian nationals in Crimea.