Kerry: US, intl community won't recognize outcome of Crimea vote on secession from Ukraine

The Associated Press

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks at a press conference at the Russian Ambassador's residence in London, Friday, March 14, 2014. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke following a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

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By LARA JAKES and CASSANDRA VINOGRAD, Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Washington and the international community won't recognize the outcome of Sunday's referendum in Crimea on seceding from Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday after six hours of talks with Russia's foreign minister.

His comments came after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov acknowledged there was no "common vision" between the two nations over the crisis in Ukraine.

The vote in Crimea — Ukraine's strategic Black Sea peninsula of 2 million people — is widely expected to back secession and possibly lead to annexation with Russia at some point. The new government in Kiev believes the vote is illegal, but Moscow says it does not recognize the new government as legitimate.

The U.S. and the 28-nation European Union say the Crimean vote violates Ukraine's constitution and international law. If Crimea votes to secede, the U.S. and the EU plan to slap sanctions as early as Monday on Russian officials and businesses accused of escalating the crisis and undermining Ukraine's new government.

Kerry said Friday he had put forward several ideas on how to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and address Russian concerns in the talks in London, but that Lavrov made clear that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not take any decisions until after Sunday's vote.

Lavrov on Friday reaffirmed that Russia will "respect the results of the referendum" in Crimea and said sanctions would harm relations.

"Our partners also realize that sanctions are counterproductive," he said.

European and U.S. leaders have repeatedly urged Moscow to pull back its troops in Crimea and stop encouraging local militias there who are hyping the vote as a choice between re-establishing generations of ties with Russia or returning to echoes of fascism from Ukraine's World War II era, when some residents cooperated with Nazi occupiers.

The showdown between Russia and the West has been cast as a struggle for the future of Ukraine, a country with a size and population similar to France. Much of western Ukraine favors ties with the EU, while many in eastern Ukraine have closer economic and traditional ties to Russia. Putin has worked for months to press Ukraine back into Russia's political and economic orbit.

While the Russian Foreign Ministry engaged in more sabre-rattling Friday by warning that it reserves the right to intervene in eastern Ukraine in defense of ethnic Russians who it claims are under threat, Lavrov denied any plans to send troops there.

"Russia doesn't and can't have any plans to invade southeastern regions of Ukraine," he said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said clashes overnight Thursday in the eastern city of Donetsk showed that Ukrainian authorities had lost control of the country and could not provide basic security.

The clashes broke out, however, when a hostile pro-Russian crowd confronted pro-government supporters. At least one person died and 29 were injured.

Ukraine responded by calling the Russian statement "impressive in its cynicism."

"(The Donetsk clashes had) a direct connection to deliberate, destructive actions of certain citizens of Russia and some Russian social organizations, representatives of which are present in our country to destabilize the situation and escalate tensions," Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Evgeny Perebiynis said, according to the Interfax news agency.

The U.N. assistant secretary-general for human rights, Ivan Simonovic, told reporters Friday in Kiev that there was "no sign of human rights violations of such a proportion, of such widespread intensity that would require any military measures."

Russia has also sent thousands of troops to its long border with Ukraine, a move that U.S. officials have called an intimidation tactic cloaked as military exercises. The Russian drills announced Thursday included large artillery exercises involving 8,500 soldiers in the Rostov border region alone.