Kerry stated in a press conference in Paris that he and Mr. Lavrov had not come to an agreement as of yet, but they did however comment that the meetings about Ukraine have been productive and both expressed a willingness to continue conversations.
During the meeting, Kerry and Lavrov discussed several things, including Russia’s push for Kiev to rewrite the constitution to allow provinces to to exercise broad autonomy. Kerry stated that any such talks would have to include the Ukrainian government. Mr. Kerry stressed that any and all decisions are ultimately up to the Ukrainian people and that, it isn’t up to the United States or Russia to make any decisions about the federalization of Ukraine. Kerry said that they talked about it, however, the decision is ultimately up to the Ukrainian governments and that”Ukrainians will decide their future for themselves, by themselves with regard to what kind of definitions work for them.”
Kerry also pushed Mr. Lavov to remove the nearly 40,000 Russian troops that have amassed around the Ukrainian border, but Mr. Lavrov insisted that they were just practicing normal military exercises and denied any plans of an invasion. Kerry remarked that it’s not about right or wrong in regards the Russian troops on the Ukrainian border, but is, “One of strategic appropriateness and whether it’s smart at this moment in time to have troops amassed on the border.”
Both Lovrov and Kerry stressed the importance of a diplomatic resolution to the situation in Ukraine, but neither were willing to budge in their ideals of what the Ukrainian government should look like going forward. Mr. Lovrov and the Russians are seeking protections for the Russian speaking population of Ukraine and federalization to give provinces more of a say in Kiev’s politics.
Lavrov said that the Russians have agreed to work with the Ukrainian government “To achieve to achieve the implementation of of such priority measures as minority rights, language rights..” he also stressed that Moscow wanted to detract activists and ensure that there are “free and fair” elections to which he wanted the international community to monitor.
Many have speculated that Russia’s insistence on the federalization of Ukraine is a front to give Moscow more of an influence over Ukrainian politics. By restructuring the constitution to give provinces more autonomy, it will give them the power to veto any measure put forth by Kiev and since a vast majority of provinces are occupied by native Russian speakers, the fear is that they will side with Russia over matters of foreign policy.
Former US Ambassador to Ukraine, Steven Pifer noted that the Ukrainian government has always been “overly centralized” in Kiev. For example, the Ukrainian president is the one who appoints provincial governors. He went on to state that, “Some diffusion of power from Kiev to provincial capitols to deal with regional issues would likely promote more efficient, effective and accountable governance,” He did however warn that Russia has no interest in how effective or efficient a new Ukrainian government, but to interfere with Ukrainian politics.
Mr. Lavrov stated that the goal of Russia’s ideal Ukrainian government is to give provincial governments the ability to set economic policy and to allow individual provinces to establish partnerships with neighboring countries both culturally and economically. He also refuted the insinuation that the Russian plan was simply to divide Ukraine saying that the only way to achieve a unified, secure and stable government was to, “Respect each region, its traditions, its customs and its language.”
Mr. Kerry said that federalization of Ukraine remains an issue and that he and Mr. Lovrov did not discuss it in depth on Sunday. However, the Russians refuse to negotiate with Kiev because they believe the interim government is “illegitimate”.
After the press conference, Ukraine issued a statement saying that the Russian plan sounded like an ultimatum and that Moscow should worry about its own treatment of minorities, including Ukrainians.
By Nathaniel Pownell