Refusing to accept 'fait accompli,' Russia says it's preparing counterproposals over Ukraine

The Associated Press

Two girls wearing tops with a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin hold baloons in colors of Russian national flag stand in front of patriotic demonstrators gathered to support Russians in Crimea in Moscow, Russia, Monday, March 10, 2014. In Ukraine's Crimean peninsula a referendum has been called to see whether the region should split off and seek to become part of Russia is expected to held on Sunday . (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

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By MARIA DANILOVA and JIM HEINTZ, Associated Press

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia said Monday it is drafting counterproposals to a U.S. plan for a negotiated solution to the Ukraine crisis, denouncing the new Western-backed government as an unacceptable "fait accompli" and claiming that Russian-leaning parts of the country have been plunged into lawlessness.

The Kremlin moves came as Russian forces strengthened their control over Crimea, less than a week before the strategic region is to hold a contentious referendum on whether to split off and become part of Russia.

In a televised briefing with President Vladimir Putin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said proposals made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are "not suitable" because they take "the situation created by the coup as a starting point," referring to the ouster of Ukraine's pro-Kremlin president, Viktor Yanukovych.

Referring to a document he received from Kerry explaining the U.S. view of the situation in Ukraine, Lavrov said: "To be frank, it raises many questions on our side."

"Everything was stated in terms of allegedly having a conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and in terms of accepting the fait accompli," he said.

Lavrov said Kerry delayed a visit to Moscow to discuss the situation, and Russia had decided to prepare new proposals of its own, though he did not say what they were.

"We suggested that he come today ... and we were prepared to receive him. He gave his preliminary consent. He then called me on Saturday and said he would like to postpone it for a while," the minister said.

But in Washington, State Department officials said that it was Russia's refusal to discuss the American proposals that was hurting prospects for a negotiated solution — in particular, the idea of direct talks between Russian officials and those of the new Ukrainian government.

"We are still awaiting a Russian response to the concrete questions that Secretary Kerry sent Foreign Minister Lavrov on Saturday in this regard," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

"Secretary Kerry made clear to Foreign Minister Lavrov that he would welcome further discussions focused on how to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine if and when we see concrete evidence that Russia is prepared to engage on these proposals," she said.

The statement said Kerry, in weekend discussions with Lavrov, reiterated Washington's demand that Moscow pull back its troops from Ukraine and end attempts to annex the Crimean peninsula. Kerry also called on Russia to cease what the statement described as "provocative steps" to allow diplomatic talks to continue.

U.S. officials described a series of diplomatic maneuvers between Washington and Moscow over the weekend that initially led to an invitation for Kerry meet with Putin on Monday. The offer expired, however, after the two sides could not quickly agree to a page-and-a-half outline for potential negotiations that, above all, demanded Ukraine's borders remain intact, according to the officials who were not authorized to be quoted by name.

The U.S. outline did call for ways to address any Russian concerns about the government turnover in Kiev that Moscow is calling a coup, and it introduced the potential for investigations into acts of violence by any party to the conflict, the officials said. Left unsaid, however, was precisely how those concerns might be assuaged, or what government would be tasked with leading such an investigation.

The U.S. outline also called on Russia to pull back from Crimea, both in military force and in influence, to halt the local government there from holding a March 16 vote on whether it should separate from Ukraine, the officials said. It further sought to gain Russian support for placing international monitors in Crimea, allowing the International Monetary Fund to work with Ukraine and backing a May 25 national election set by Kiev.