U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday night discussed an “off-ramp” for Russian President Vladimir Putin as a possible solution to the Ukrainian crisis.
However, the suggestion has been publicly rebuked by Russia, and it’s unclear if the proposal has a realistic shot.
The idea of the diplomatic “off-ramp” is simple — Russia would agree to have its forces remain at their bases while international monitors would be deployed to the Ukrainian region of Crimea to ensure the rights of Russian-speaking people there. Then, a “contact group” — first suggested by Merkel to Putin on Sunday — could come in and negotiate a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
Protecting the rights of Russian speakers in Crimea has been the Russian government’s main rationale for its intervention in Ukraine. After speaking with Merkel Tuesday, Obama said he thought the Ukrainian crisis could be “de-escalated.” However, a senior administration official didn’t respond to a request for comment from Business Insider Wednesday about the likelihood of any diplomatic proposal becoming reality.
Despite this apparent optimism, Russia hinted Wednesday it was not ready or willing to support such an “off ramp” proposal. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia could not order the pro-Moscow forces back to bases because Russia did not directly control them. This assertion has been ridiculed by Western leaders in recent days, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry who seemed genuinely dumbfounded when told Russia was denying it deployed troops in Crimea on Tuesday.
“If they are the self-defence forces created by the inhabitants of Crimea, we have no authority over them,” Lavrov said at a news conference in Madrid after a meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo.
“They do not receive our orders,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lavrov continued to assert Russia will do anything necessary — including potentially using military force — to ensure Russian citizens in Ukraine are protected.
“We will not allow bloodshed. We will not allow attempts against the lives and wellbeing of those who live in Ukraine and Russian citizens who live in Ukraine,” he said.
Around 16,000 Russian troops have invaded the southern Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. They have surrounded several Ukranian army bases in the strategic Black Sea region, and have told Ukrainian soldiers to lay down arms and pledge allegiance to pro-Russian authorities in the region.
If there is a diplomatic solution to the crisis, a clearer picture should emerge by the end of the day. Top diplomats from Russia, Ukraine, the U.S., Britain, and France were in Paris for talks Wednesday. Still, it’s not yet clear if Lavrov will meet with his counterpart from Ukraine.
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