John Kerry Meets Russian President On Ukraine Crisis

RussianU.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, met Russian President, Vladimir Putin, on Tuesday, to probe Russia’s willingness to curb its involvement in Ukraine crisis and its backing of Syria’s President.

This was the highest-level U.S. visit to Russia since the Ukraine crisis began in the autumn of 2013.

The west accused Russia of arming rebels in eastern Ukraine and sending its troops there, a claim Moscow denied.

Kerry also met Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, for over four hours before he sat with President Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

While they were expected to discuss issues including the Iran nuclear talks, Yemen and Libya, the tour seemed planned to maintain contact, given that U.S.-Russian relations are at their lowest ebb since the Cold War.

“It’s important for us to keep these lines of communication open. It’s important to try to talk to the senior decision maker.

“We have a lot of business that we could do together if there is interest,” said a senior U.S. State Department official.

President Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, called the visit a “positive step”, noting that the Russian President was prepared for “extensive” discussions at the meeting.

“Through dialogue, it is possible to find ways for a normalisation, closer coordination in dealing with international problems,” Peskov told reporters before the talks began. “Russia was never the initiator of this cooling of relations,” he added.

More than 6,000 people have been killed since fighting began in April 2014 between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed rebels in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The conflict was subsequent to Russia’s takeover of the Crimean Peninsula in Southern Ukraine.

Obama Imposes Sanctions On 11 Russians And Ukrainians Over Crimea Move

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the crisis in Ukraine from the White House in Washington March 17, 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the crisis in Ukraine from the White House in Washington March 17, 2014.

U.S. President, Barack Obama on Monday (March 17) imposed sanctions on 11 Russians and Ukrainians blamed for Russia’s military incursion into Crimea, including two top aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The sanctions were the most visible sign of U.S. anger at Russia’s attempt to absorb the Crimea region of southern Ukraine, reflecting the deepest plunge in U.S.-Russian relations since the Cold War.

The U.S. sanctions came in an executive order signed by Obama a day after Sunday’s (March 16) Crimea referendum aimed at allowing Russia to annex the region, a vote that the United States says was illegal and would never be recognized by Washington.

Obama’s order freezes any assets in the United States and bans travel into the country of seven high ranking Russian government officials and four individuals identified as Crimea-based separatist leaders.

Ousted Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovich was among those sanctioned along with Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov and Crimean Parliament Speaker, Vladimir Konstantinov.

The United States also reached deep into Putin’s inner circle by naming presidential aide Vladislav Surkov and adviser Sergei Glazyev.

Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitri Rogozin, and two state Duma deputies, Leonid Slutsky and Yelena Mizulina also were targeted.

Rogozin, shrugged off the sanctions in a tweet.

“Comrade Obama, what should those who don’t have any assets or property abroad do? Or you didn’t think about that?” Rogozin tweeted.

Two members of Russia’s Federation Council that approved deployment of Russian troops in Ukraine were named, including speaker, Valentina Matviyenko and Senator Andrei Klishas.

Senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the penalties said they were the most comprehensive sanctions applied to Russia since the end of the Cold War.

A senior official said Obama’s order clears the way for sanctions on people associated with the Russian arms industry and targets “the personal wealth of cronies” of the Russian leadership.

Putin himself was not sanctioned. A senior Obama administration official said it would have been a highly unusual step and extraordinary to target a Head of State.

Officials warned more sanctions would follow if Russia proceeds with the formal annexation of Crimea, which officials said they believe Putin may announce in a speech on Tuesday (March 18).

Crimea Parliament Declares Independence, Seeks To Join Russia

Pro-russia protest CrimeaCrimea’s parliament has formally declared independence from Ukraine and asked to join the Russian Federation.

This comes a day after a controversial referendum which overwhelmingly backed leaving Ukraine.

According to a statement on its website, the Parliament made a proposal to the Russian Federation to “admit the Republic of Crimea as a new subject with the status of a republic.”

A Crimean parliamentary delegation was expected to arrive in Moscow on Monday to discuss the procedures required for the Black Sea peninsula to become part of the Russian Federation.

However, the government in Kiev says it would not recognize the results, referring to the referendum as a “circus” directed at gunpoint by Moscow, as the Crimean peninsula had been seized for two weeks now by troops under apparent Russian command.

The US and EU has also said that the vote was illegal and have vowed to impose sanctions on Moscow, including travel bans and asset freezes on 21 officials from Russia and Ukraine.

The Crimean peninsula has been under the control of pro-Russia forces since late February.

The crisis follows the ousting of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow President, Viktor Yanukovych on February 22, following months of street protests and deadly clashes.