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John Kerry warns Russia on Crimea annexation

Secretary of State John Kerry.

REUTERS/file

Secretary of State John Kerry.

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry warned his Russian counterpart Saturday that steps by the Kremlin to annex Crimea would “close any available space for diplomacy,” a U.S. State Department official said.

Kerry’s warning came after leaders of Russia’s parliament said they would support a move by Crimea to break away from Ukraine and become part of the Russian Federation.

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He said during his recent trip to Europe that he had provided “suggestions” to Sergei V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, on how the crisis set off by Russia’s military intervention in Crimea might be resolved.

“We have made suggestions to Foreign Minister Lavrov, which he is currently taking personally to President Putin in Sochi,” the secretary of state said Thursday, after meeting with Lavrov in Rome.

A major element of the United States’ diplomatic strategy is to form a “contact group” that would include France, Britain, Germany, Russia and Ukraine, and perhaps others. Such a group would provide a forum to try to negotiate a political solution, as well as a mechanism for Ukrainian and Russian officials to begin their first face-to-face talks on the crisis.

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The Obama administration has been trying for days to broker direct talks between Russia and Ukraine. Russia, however, has yet to agree to the idea.

In his call Saturday, Kerry again sought to pursue a political solution while warning that Russian annexation of Crimea would bring such diplomatic efforts to a halt.

“The secretary underscored U.S. readiness to work with partners and allies to facilitate direct dialogue between Ukraine and Russia,” said the State Department official, who declined to be identified under the agency’s protocol for briefing reporters.

“At the same time, he made clear that continued military escalation and provocation in Crimea or elsewhere in Ukraine, along with steps to annex Crimea to Russia, would close any available space for diplomacy, and he urged utmost restraint,” the official said.

Kerry and Lavrov agreed to speak again soon, the official added.

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