World Bulletin/News Desk
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to London to meet with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Friday to discuss proposals for resolving the Ukrainian crisis days before a referendum in Ukraine's Crimea region on joining Russia.
Kerry told lawmakers he was traveling at the request of President Barack Obama, who was meeting with Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk at the White House on Wednesday to explore ways to calm the tensions with Moscow.
"Our job is to try to present them with a series of options that are appropriate in order to try to respect the people of Ukraine, international law, and the interests of all concerned," Kerry told the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee on Foreign Operations on Wednesday.
"We will offer certain choices to Foreign Minister Lavrov and to President (Vladimir) 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 defuses this and ... finds a way to respect the integrity and sovereignty of the state of Ukraine," he added.
Kerry met with Lavrov twice in Europe last week. He gave the foreign minister a one-page paper laying out proposals for ending the standoff over Crimea, including the idea of a "contact group" bringing Russia, Ukraine and other countries together to forge a diplomatic solution.
U.S. officials said Lavrov was not authorized to make decisions and took the proposals back to Putin.
Kerry told lawmakers that the United States recognized that Russia has long-standing interests in Crimea, where a small majority of people are ethnic Russians. But he said nothing justified Russia's takeover in the Black Sea peninsula.
"We need to approach this in ways that we get Russia to be able to respect the sovereignty of the country, the integrity of international law, the rights of Ukrainian people to make decisions for themselves even as Russian speakers and Russia's interests can be appropriately met," Kerry told lawmakers.
He declined to get into details about the administration's plans to impose sanctions on Moscow if a solution is not found. Washington has already prepared to the way to impose banking, business and other sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian officials.
"I don't want to go into all of the detail except to say ... it can get ugly fast if the wrong choices are made, and it can get ugly in multiple directions," he said. "So, our hope is that indeed there is a way to have a reasonable outcome, here."
"They may well, but they may have the referendum, have the vote and not move in the Duma (legislature) to do the other things," he said.
"Or, you know, now I hear talk about the potential of secession as an alternative and so forth. That obviously, in our judgment, would be contrary to the constitution of Ukraine and an illegal act and I'm not sure that it would be recognized under those circumstances," he added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Francois Hollande on Wednesday discussed "possibilities for stepping up international support" for a solution to the crisis in Ukraine, the Kremlin said.
The tone of the Kremlin statement about a phone call differed from that of a statement from Hollande's office, which said Hollande told Putin he must do everything to stop the "unacceptable annexation" of Ukraine's Crimea region by Russia.