Sterile talks: Russia wants Ukraine’s federalisation, Kyiv expresses outrage, U.S. voice concerns

Talks between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, ended late on Sunday after four hours of negotiations to defuse tensions over Ukraine. The meeting came as Russian troopsmassed on country’s border.

The talks followed a late-night phone call from Russian President Vladimir Putin to US President Barack Obama on Friday, when the two discussed potential diplomatic solutions to the Ukraine crisis. In a sign of the apparent urgency that both sides placed on the talks, Mr Kerry turned his aircraft round after a refuelling stop at Ireland’s Shannon airport on Saturday to return to Paris for the meeting, the Financial Times reports.

Mr Kerry said after his four-hour meeting with the Russian foreign minister that while they differed on events leading to the crisis, both sides recognized the importance of finding a diplomatic solution that meets the needs of the Ukrainian people.

Speaking to the press, Kerry took a chance to once again remind that Washington still considered Russia’s actions in Ukraine “illegal and illegitimate.” He also voiced his concerns about a “very large Russian force currently massing along Ukraine’s borders”.

In his turn, Sergei Lavrov voiced Russia’s stance on the issue: “Frankly speaking, we don’t see any other way for the steady development of the Ukrainian state apart from as a federation”.

Under the Russian plan, which Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin reportedly discussed in a phone call initiated by Moscow on Friday, each region would have control of its economy, taxes, culture, language, education and ‘external economic and cultural connections with neighbouring countries or regions,’ Mr Lavrov said. “Given the proportion of native Russians [in Ukraine], we propose this and we are sure there is no other way,” he added.

Ukraine’s government expressed outrage at the proposals made by Russia’s foreign minister.

“The ultimatum and the didactic tone of these statements demonstrate that as the real aggressor Russia does not accept any control over its own behavior. Under the barrels of its machine guns, this aggressor demands only one thing — the complete capitulation of Ukraine, its dismemberment, and the destruction of Ukrainian statehood,” the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said.

“Russia’s proposals for federalisation, a second official language, and referendums are viewed in Ukraine as nothing less than proof of Russia’s aggression,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry stressed. “We sincerely regret that Minister Lavrov had to voice them.”

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