US-Russia talks on Crimea break down
A meeting in London between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov broke down after just a few hours, indicating that the two sides are too far apart for any agreement on the annexation of the Crimea to be forthcoming.
A last-minute U.S. diplomatic effort aimed at halting Sunday's referendum in Crimea on joining Russia collapsed after six hours, pushing the West to the verge of imposing punishing sanctions on Moscow that would raise East-West tensions to new heights.
The rupture Friday of negotiations shifted pressing new importance onto what happens over the next few days: Sunday's vote in Crimea, the Kremlin's reaction to the results, the response by the West and the ominous military movements along the Ukrainian border by Russia.
President Barack Obama and European leaders vowed after the diplomatic failure to begin imposing sanctions on Russia quickly if the Crimean region votes to secede from Ukraine.
Russia continued staging military exercises with thousands of troops along its border with Ukraine, stoking Western fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin could seek to hive off additional territory from the former Soviet republic.
U.S. and Russian officials didn't rule out Mr. Putin's moving within days to absorb Crimea after Sunday's vote.
"It's pointless to speculate, we need to wait for the results," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in London after his talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. "Everyone understands, and I say this with all responsibility, what Crimea means to Russia."
Mr. Lavrov did not explain what the Crimea means to Ukraine. Guess it sort of slipped his mind.
The talks can best be summed up by this picture:
I don't think they're going out for lunch afterwards, do you?
How futile were the prospects of success?
U.S. officials said they raised with Mr. Lavrov the prospects of Crimea's largely Russian-speaking population getting more autonomy, including greater power over taxes, education, language and voting. They also entertained the prospect that Russia's parliament, the Duma, could decide not to ratify the annexation of Crimea after the referendum.
The American delegation in London, however, expressed little real optimism that Mr. Putin would pull his support for Crimea's secession or step back from his commitment to absorbing the strategic peninsula.
Mr. Kerry said Mr. Lavrov didn't appear empowered by the Kremlin to engage in negotiations on any American proposals that might leave Crimea a part of Ukraine.
According to the Journal story, Lavrov broke away from the talks briefly, presumably to telephone Putin. No doubt the two old commies shared a laugh at the notion that Putin would actually agree not to annex the Crimea after the referendum.
I guess the purpose of this meeting was to show that the US and Russia were willing to do anything to avoid conflict, but it appears that Russia, at least, viewed the sit down as performance art, not diplomacy.