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Ukraine does not work as ‘unified’ state warns Russia's Sergey Lavrov after talks with John Kerry break up

BY DAVID USBORNE AND IAN JOHNSTON

Russia and the United States failed to reach a deal on how to resolve the Crimean crisis after four hours of talks between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.

Mr Kerry said he had made clear to Mr Lavrov during the “frank” meeting that Moscow’s annexation of the Ukrainian territory was “illegal and illegitimate”.

Mr Lavrov, speaking separately, said Ukraine could not function as a “unified” state and should turn into a loose federation of regions instead with each able to choose their own official religion, language and economic policies.

The build-up of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine has prompted concern that they might invade, purportedly to protect the Russian-speaking population in the east of the country. The same reason was given when they moved into Crimea after the Moscow-leaning former President, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted.

Mr Kerry said he had raised “strong concerns” about the presence of Russian forces so close to Ukraine, which he said created a climate of fear and intimidation.

Mr Lavrov said the talks with Mr Kerry on Sunday night in Paris had been “very, very constructive”.

He said he and Kerry agreed to work with the Ukrainian government to improve rights for Russian-speaking Ukrainians and disarming “irregular forces and provocateurs”.

“We have agreed to work with the Ukrainian government and people to achieve progress in rights of minorities and linguistic rights,” he said, according to the Interfax news agency. He also said Russia and the United States had agreed it was necessary to seek “points of tangency” in order to reach a common position on the diplomatic resolution of the crisis.

Even as the diplomatic push got under way, several west European governments, including Britain, continued to express alarm about the Russian troop build-up and said they stood ready to deploy forces and equipment to eastern European members of Nato, notably the Baltic states, in case the situation should deteriorate further.

“Nobody should be in any doubt to our resolve to live up to our commitments under the Nato treaty,” Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, told the BBC, referring to the understanding that an attack on one Nato member would always be seen as an attack on all of them.  “We are looking at opportunities to increase participation in planned Nato exercises as another way of reassuring our Nato allies.”

The Paris meeting came after a surprise phone call late on Friday night from Russian President Vladimir Putin to President Barack Obama, the first time the two men had spoken directly since the imposition of financial and travel restrictions by the US and the European Union on Russia.  While the interpretations of that conversation offered by the Kremlin and the White House diverged starkly, it offered some hope of a diplomatic end to the stand-off.

Before the talks, Mr Lavrov played down the sanctions. “I don’t want to say that sanctions are ridiculous and that we couldn’t care less, these are not pleasant things,” he told Russian television.

 “We find little joy in that, but there are no painful sensations. We have lived through tougher times.”

As part of any deal, the US would expect Russia to begin pulling back about 40,000 troops thought to have been deployed close to Ukraine, to disarm the militia that entered and took control of Crimea and to open talks with Ukraine. International observers would also be deployed inside Ukraine and Crimea to monitor tensions.

So far the US has said little publicly about the notion of turning Ukraine into a federation beyond saying that no constitutional changes could be imposed without the consent of its people.

But Mr Lavrov suggested that the US was not against the federal solution. “We can’t see any other way to ensure the stable development of Ukraine but to sign a federal agreement,” he said, adding that he understood the US was open to the idea.

Further reading

IMF to loan Ukraine up to £10bn 

Steven Seagal: Vladimir Putin's Crimea actions very reasonable

RT news anchor Abby Martin speaks out against 'Russian intervention' during live Breaking the Set broadcast 

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