- Posted March 30, 2014 by
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Munich in Paris
The devil is in the details.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held talks in Paris about how to defuse the crisis over Ukraine. Kerry told his Russian counterpart that progress in the talks depended on a Russian pullback from Ukraine's borders. "Both sides made suggestions on how to de-escalate the political situation in Ukraine," Kerry said. The two were seeking to hammer out a deal over Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea. The US saw its role was "creating conditions for negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv." Putin was likely to demand that the US accept Russia's annexation of the Crimea as the minimum for any cooperation.
The US believed the massing of Russian soldiers along the Ukrainian border was an attempt by Moscow to intimidate the new leaders in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, and to use the situation as a bargaining chip with the US and EU. Kerry noted that even if the Russian troops remained within Russian territory and did not enter Ukraine, they created a negative atmosphere. "The question was not one of right or legality; the question was one of strategic appropriateness," Kerry stated. He ruled out any discussion of Russia's demand for Ukraine until Ukrainians were at the table; there would be "no decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine," he assured after his talks with Lavrov.
While Kerry insisted that the US would not strike any deal with Russia on Ukraine's territorial sovereignty, he appeared to have done just that. Kerry was careful to mask his "Chamberlain moment" in repeated assurances that the US would not succumb to compromise with Moscow on Russia's occupation of the Crimea. Kerry's tet-a-tet negotiations with Lavrov seemed to sideline the one question that was crucial to European security: whether the US would let Putin's annexation of the Crimea to stand. The two-way talks in the Russian Ambassador's residence in Paris sank the hopes of many Europeans that President Barack Obama's administration had abandoned its failed "reset" with Putin.