By Lara Jakes
and Maria Danilova
PARIS: The United States and Western diplomats failed to bring Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers together Wednesday for face-to-face talks on the confrontation in Crimea, even as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced optimism that an exit strategy was possible.
“I’d rather be where we are today than where we were yesterday,” he said.
The flurry of diplomatic activity came as NATO punished Russia by suspending military cooperation, and the European Union extended $15 billion in aid to Ukraine, matching the amount the country’s fugitive president accepted from Moscow to turn his back on an EU trade accord.
After an intense round of diplomacy with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and several European counterparts in Paris, Kerry said the meetings were “very constructive, without promising something that is not defined yet, without raising hopes that are inappropriate to raise.”
“I want to be realistic. This is hard, tough stuff, and a very serious moment,” Kerry said.
“I personally feel that I have something concrete to take back and talk to President Obama about,” he added, without specifying what that was.
Speaking separately after what he called “a very long day” of discussions on Ukraine, Lavrov said the sides agreed to continue talks in coming days “about how we can help in efforts to normalize the situation and overcome the crisis.”
Still, there was no direct meeting between Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart, Andriy Deshchytsia, though the Ukrainian foreign minister said Kerry asked him to delay his flight home in hopes of getting the two to sit down together.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Deshchytsia said that he had hoped to brief Lavrov on a Ukrainian proposal to offer Crimea more autonomy while still claiming it within the country’s borders.
Any vote taken toward autonomy would require international observers to replace armed groups in order to work, he said.