U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s press conference in the early morning hours of Paris on Monday was more notable for what it didn’t mention than what it did.
Kerry said nearly 1,500 words at the press conference, which followed an hours-long meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Not one of those words was “Crimea.”
More and more over the last few days, the U.S. has come to terms with the fact that Crimea, for all intents and purposes, is now a part of Russia.
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday that “Crimea is gone.” And for all the bluster from Obama administration officials about Russia’s “illegal” annexation of Crimea under international law, it is telling that the tone has shifted sharply over the past week.
“Russia isn’t backing down; neither is the West,” said Ian Bremmer, the president of Eurasia group. “For now, [the situation is] unsteadily holding at Crimea. The potential for expanded trouble remains very serious.
“The Russian defence minister and foreign minister have both assured the West that there’s no intention of a military invasion into East Ukraine. Which translates into Moscow staying put unless there are provocations that require a Russian response (ala what the Kremlin claimed in Crimea). But that’s a scenario easily developed by the Kremlin if they wish — given the lack of government and social unease in eastern Ukraine and the ability for local Russians (at the suggestion/incitement of Moscow) to spark violence.”
Discussions between the U.S. and Russia over the past few days have focused on what’s ahead in Ukraine — not what has already happened. On Friday during a phone call between U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Obama urged Putin to pull back tens of thousands of troops amassed along the Ukrainian border. On Sunday, Kerry told Lavrov to do the same.
In both cases, the focus centered on an obscure “diplomatic solution” to the Ukrainian crisis — one that does not appear to include the return of Crimea to Ukrainian territory.
“The U.S. and Russia have differences of opinion about the events that led to this crisis, but both of us recognise the importance of finding a diplomatic solution and of simultaneously meeting the needs of the Ukrainian people — and that we agreed on tonight,” Kerry said.
At the same time, Russia knows this — and it is openly flaunting its grip on Crimea. On Monday, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev flew to Crimea and announced plans to turn the region into a “special economic zone.” He made clear Russia has no plans to hand over Crimea.
When Crimea first announced it would hold a referendum on joining Russia, Bremmer said the U.S. would have to come to terms with Russia’s takeover of the region. The question still remains, however: How far does Putin want to push?
Thus far, the line from the U.S. hasn’t changed. On March 14, after a meeting intended to dissuade Russia from persuing the Crimean referendum, Kerry said the U.S. wanted Ukraine’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity respected, as we would ask that to happen for any country.”
On Sunday night, with Crimea gone, he said: “The United States and the international community stand in firm support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and Ukraine’s territorial integrity. We will continue to support the people of Ukraine’s right to choose their own future. And I will say that at least tonight Foreign Minister Lavrov indicated that Russia wants to respect the right of Ukrainians to make that choice.”
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