As Secretary of State John Kerry prepares to meet his Russian counterpart in London for last-ditch talks Friday aimed at averting a rushed referendum on Crimea’s reincorporation into Russia, neither Russia nor the separatist authorities in Crimea show any sign of backing down.
President Obama’s decision to send Kerry comes just two days after the State Department said Kerry would only meet with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss the Crimea situation “if and when we see concrete evidence that Russia is prepared to engage on these proposals.”
“We think there needs to be concrete evidence that Russia is prepared to engage on these proposals and in these discussions in a serious way,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday, referring to the possibility of a Kerry-Lavrov meeting.
So far Moscow has shunned U.S. proposals to resolve the dispute, primarily because it refuses to talk to Ukraine’s new government, which it regards as illegitimate.
Russian media are characterizing the results of Sunday’s referendum as all but inevitable, predicting that the two million inhabitants of the Russian-majority region of Ukraine will strongly support the Black Sea peninsula becoming the 84th member of the Russian Federation.
The Kremlin has said it will “respect” the outcome, and the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament, also has said it will support Crimea’s decision to join Russia if the vote goes that way. The Federation Council is sending “observers” to monitor the exercise.
In Crimea itself, the region’s pro-Russian government said interim results in the referendum will be available as early as Sunday.
In a further provocative move, the region’s “prime minister,” Sergei Aksenov, said Ukrainian Navy ships that have been seized in Crimea will not be returned to Ukraine, Interfax reported. (Crimea’s Sevastopol is home to the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet, and also the headquarters of the Ukrainian Navy.)
Aksenov is wanted by the authorities in Ukraine for “actions aimed at the violent overthrow, change of constitutional order, or the seizure of state power.”
At the White House, Obama attacked the referendum plan, saying alongside Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk that it would be contrary to international law and to Ukraine’s national constitution.
Obama criticized Russia for trying to draw a comparison between the Crimea referendum and situations elsewhere, including Scotland’s planned referendum on independence next September.