Top US diplomat John Kerry arrived in London on Friday on an 11th-hour mission to head off a possible Russian annexation of Crimea on the heels of a breakaway vote by the Ukrainian region.
With the clock ticking down to Crimea’s referendum on Sunday, Kerry was to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov seeking to put the brakes on any moves by Russian President Vladimir Putin to swiftly annex the peninsula.
Shortly before leaving the United States, the secretary of state admitted that it was all but impossible to stop the referendum organised by Crimea’s self-declared leaders from going ahead and warned there was no question that the pro-Russian ethnic majority would vote to move closer to Moscow.
Shortly after arriving in London, Kerry paid a visit to British Prime Minister David Cameron at his Downing Street residence ahead of his talks with Lavrov.
Cameron urged Russia and Ukraine to negotiate over Crimea and warned that failure to do so could trigger sanctions from the West.
He said: “We want to see progress as much as you do. We want to see Ukrainians and the Russians talking to each other.
“And if they don’t then there are going to have to be consequences.”
Kerry said: “Hopefully, I think we’re all hoping that we don’t get pushed into a place where we have to do all this. But we’ll see what happens.”
World attention is now focused on what moves Putin may make on Monday following the vote. There are growing concerns that he may have further ambitions to seize other swathes of Ukraine.
‘Environment of intimidation’
Alarm was raised in recent days by a large mobilisation of Russian forces on the eastern borders of Ukraine, with an estimated 20,000 troops already inside southern Crimea as well as growing intimidation by pro-Kremlin militias and mobs.
“We’re very concerned. This is the second time inside a month that Russia has chosen to mass large amounts of forces in short notice around the borders of eastern Ukraine,” a senior State Department official told reporters travelling with Kerry to London.
“It certainly creates an environment of intimidation. It certainly is destabilizing,” the official said.
“We are going to present within the context of a unified sovereign Ukraine the best offer for de-escalation that the Ukrainian people can accept and see if Russia is prepared to take that offer.”
Amid the bitterest East-West standoff since the end of the Cold War, Washington and its international allies want to see Russia pull back its forces, and allow international observers into Kiev and Crimea to monitor the situation.
Moscow must also agree to talks with the new interim leadership in Ukraine, which it sees as having taken over illegitimately following the ouster of pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych late last month.
“The first thing that Secretary Kerry will say is ‘Will you use your influence to buy time and space for negotiations to take place’,” the US official said.
“That said, Crimeans seem bound and determined to go forward with this.”
Kerry and Lavrov met in Paris and Rome earlier this month and have spoken virtually daily by phone about Ukraine.
Copyright (2014) AFP. All rights reserved.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.