KIEV, Ukraine (CNN, March 5, 2014) — Foreign ministers from around the world didn’t strike a deal over the Ukraine crisis Wednesday, but they agreed on one key thing, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said: They’d rather talk than fight.
“All parties agreed today that it is important to try to resolve these issues through dialogue,” Kerry told reporters after a series of meetings in Paris with foreign ministers from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia.
Kerry described the talks as “the beginning of a negotiation” and called them “very constructive.” Finding a resolution will be difficult, he said, “but I’d rather be where we are today than where we were yesterday.”
Kerry said it was up to Russia “to choose to de-escalate the situation” in Ukraine by having its troops return to their military bases and “welcome international observers and human rights monitors” into Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
“The United States is ready to work with all parties” — including Russia — “to make that happen,” Kerry said.
The United States’ position on the crisis has not changed, he said.
“Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity has actually united the world in support of the Ukrainian people,” Kerry said.
Ukrainian officials claim that Russian troops have entered its territory on the Crimean peninsula by the thousands, something that Russian leaders deny.
Meanwhile, Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that an agreement with the United States had been reached to help Ukraine implement a February 21 deal over the transition of power in Ukraine. But Kerry did not mention that agreement in his remarks Wednesday.
Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, met three times Wednesday in Paris. They greeted each other cordially during one session at the Russian Embassy, according to the pool reporter traveling with Kerry.
Kerry urged direct talks between Russia and Ukraine to resolve the crisis, the official said.
One of those meetings included a “brief and informal discussion” among Kerry, Lavrov, Britain’s William Hague, France’s Laurent Fabius and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the official said.
“We are all concerned at what is happening there (Ukraine),” Lavrov told reporters. “We agreed to continue those discussions in the days to come to see how best we can help stabilize normalize the situation and overcome the crisis.”
By day’s end, Lavrov had not met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Andrii Deshchytsia.
But Ukrainian acting Economy and Trade Minister Pavlo Sheremeta told CNN that he believed there had been some communication between officials from the two countries.
“I think our prime minister talked to the Russian prime minister,” he said.
Earlier Wednesday, NATO warned it was reviewing its relationship with Russia and threats of sanctions — and retaliations — flew between Europe and Russia.
At NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters that the international body had decided to “put the entire range of NATO-Russia cooperation under review” to send “a clear message Russia’s actions have consequences.”
Planning for the first NATO-Russia joint mission — the maritime escort of a U.S. ship involved in neutralizing chemical weapons — has been suspended, though the decision will not affect the destruction of chemical weapons, he said.
And no staff-level civilian or military meetings with Russia will take place “for now,” Rasmussen said.
In addition, he said, the organization will “intensify” its partnership with Ukraine, stepping up engagement with its civilian and military leadership through increased joint training and exercises and doing more to include Ukraine in multinational projects.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday and the two leaders discussed possible moves to normalize the situation, the Kremlin said.
Possibility of sanctions
Russia has been warned that possible sanctions will be on the agenda when European Union leaders meet Thursday in Brussels if no progress is made in ending the showdown sparked by Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine’s Crimea region.
The impact of sanctions, if they were imposed, might be felt by other countries, too. In a tit-for-tat move, Russian lawmakers are drafting a law that would allow Russia to confiscate assets belonging to U.S. and European companies if sanctions are slapped on Moscow, Russian state media reported.
The Russian threat was not specific, but numerous large European and U.S. companies have interests in the region and Russia is a major supplier of gas to Europe.
What happens at the EU meeting on sanctions “will be partly determined by Russia’s willingness to sit down with Ukraine,” Hague said.
If no progress can be made on de-escalating the situation, then there will be “costs and consequences,” Hague said.
Russian forces remain in effective control of Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula of Ukraine that is home to a large Russian naval base, in a standoff with Ukrainian forces loyal to the new, interim government in Kiev.
Fears of instability
Tensions mounted on the ground in Crimea. Robert Serry, the U.N. envoy to Ukraine, was threatened by armed men in Sevastopol who wanted him to get into a car, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told reporters Wednesday.
The United Nations expects local authorities to provide protection for Serry to return to his hotel from a cafe where he had stayed put, Eliasson said. CNN affiliate ITV reported that Serry had agreed to leave Ukraine immediately.
In the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, protestors took over a local government building and were seen heading to the local treasury, witnesses told CNN Wednesday.
The protesters were calling for a referendum on the status of the Donetsk region and said they want to see the region gain more autonomy.