LONDON — An 11th-hour bid by Secretary of State John Kerry to ease the escalating crisis over the Kremlin’s intervention in Crimea ended inconclusively Friday, with his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, declaring that Russia and the West have “no common vision” about the events that led to the impasse.
In a more positive vein, Lavrov also said that Russia “does not have any plans to invade Eastern or Southern Ukraine,” despite the buildup of Russian forces in regions along the Ukrainian border that has raised fears in Ukraine and beyond that an invasion could be imminent.
Lavrov held firm to Russia’s positions throughout the crisis: denouncing the ouster of Viktor Yanukovych as a coup, refusing to recognize the new government, opposing the creation of a “contact group,” and reiterating Crimea’s right to self-determination.
“We don’t have a common vision of the situation,” Lavrov said during his appearance after the talks, which he nonetheless called helpful in clarifying the seemingly intractable positions. “Our differences remain.”
Lavrov refused to say whether Russia would move to recognize Crimea as an independent state or to absorb it as a region of the Russian Federation. Instead, he repeated President Vladimir Putin’s pledge to “respect the choice” of voters in a referendum on secession on Sunday, after which Russia would announce its next steps. “It makes no sense to speculate at this point,” he said. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
He brushed aside the threats of sanctions and other punitive measures made by President Obama and European leaders, saying that Kerry “made no threats regarding Russia.”
He said the sanctions that have been widely discussed by officials and reported in the news media would be “a counterproductive instrument.”
“This will definitely not help our mutual interest,” he said.
Asked why other countries did not support Crimea’s desire for independence, he replied that they treated efforts to declare independence case by case. “If Kosovo is a special case, then Crimea is also a special case,” he said.
Putin spoke by telephone with the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, on Friday, the Kremlin said in a statement, and emphasized that the decision to hold the referendum on Crimea’s status “fully complies with international law and the UN Charter.” Western nations have called the referendum illegal.
Ban did not say anything specific about the referendum, he said, but he warned of “a great risk of a dangerous downward spiral.”
He added: “I urge all concerned to avoid provocation and hasty decisions in the coming days. The focus must be to engage in direct dialogue aimed at agreeing on specific measures that will pave the way towards a diplomatic solution.”
As of Friday, there had been no sign that Putin was prepared to take the “off ramp” that the Obama administration has repeatedly offered. The Kremlin provided no hint of flexibility in a paper it sent to the State Department on Monday night that argued that Crimea’s secession from Ukraine would be as legitimate as Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, which the United States supported.
And in a new episode of muscle flexing, Putin ordered a snap exercise involving thousands of troops near Ukraine’s borders this week.
Even as Russia announced additional military exercises, including flights by fighter jets in the Mediterranean, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow blamed the new authorities in Kiev for losing control of the country and reiterated Putin’s vow to defend Russian “compatriots” in Ukraine.
The ministry’s statement, released on its website, cited violence during competing rallies in the eastern city of Donetsk on Thursday night that left one person dead and many others injured. The ministry attributed the violence to “right-wing groups” that supported the government in Kiev, though reports from witnesses and even footage on state television suggested that pro-Russian protesters had attacked their rivals.
“Russia is aware of its responsibility for the lives of compatriots and fellow citizens in Ukraine and reserves the right to take people under protection,” the ministry’s statement said.
One Western official, who asked not to be named because he was discussing intelligence reports, said, “It is clearly political coercion, at a minimum.”
A major question for the United States and its partners is whether Putin’s strategy is limited to protecting Russian interests in Crimea or is the first move in a broader campaign to undermine Ukraine’s new government and weaken its authority over the eastern portion of the country.