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Pending Russian Response, Kerry's Travel Plans Are Up In The Air


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


I'm Robert Siegel.

And we begin this hour with the latest on the standoff over Ukraine. Today, Russian forces seized the Ukrainian naval post, military hospital and a missile unit in Crimea. At the same time, Moscow accused Kiev of encouraging right-wing groups and creating lawlessness in eastern Ukraine. This all complicates things on the diplomatic front.

The State Department says before Secretary of State John Kerry agrees to visit Russia, there must be concrete evidence that Moscow is ready for serious discussions. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: With television cameras rolling, Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, explained to President Vladimir Putin that he had invited Kerry to visit but that the secretary decided over the weekend to hold off.

SERGEI LAVROV: (Foreign language spoken)

KELEMEN: Lavrov tells Putin that Kerry gave him a paper that Russia finds unsuitable because it accepts what he calls the coup in Ukraine as a fait accompli. But while Russia doesn't recognize the new Ukrainian government, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki says Kerry is still trying to find a way for the two sides to talk directly to each other.

JEN PSAKI: We want to see a cessation of Russian military activities in Ukraine, including in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. We want to see a halt in the drive for annexation of Crimea.

KELEMEN: And if Russia is ready to talk about that, she says, Kerry would be willing to travel.

PSAKI: He never shies away from hopping on a plane or having an in-person meeting. But we want to ensure that that is undertaken with seriousness on the other end, as well.

KELEMEN: Some analysts have their doubts.

ANGELA STENT: They're dealing with a very intransigent Kremlin, and there doesn't seem to be any way of moving them.

KELEMEN: That's Georgetown University professor Angela Stent, author of the book "The Limits of Partnership: U.S.-Russia Relations in the Twenty-First Century." She says Russia already rebuffed Kerry's attempts last week to get Sergei Lavrov in the same room with the new Ukrainian foreign minister. And she says no one really believes that the U.S. will be able to talk Russia out of annexing Crimea once the region votes in a referendum this coming weekend.

STENT: It looks as if it's going to be incorporated into the Russian Federation. We won't recognize that but I guess, what does that mean? We're still going to deal with Russia.

KELEMEN: She says she's worried that Russia is also stirring up trouble in eastern Ukraine, where many ethnic Russians live. Stent says the U.S. should be encouraging the new Ukrainian authorities not to be provoked there and not to pass laws that provoke Russia.

STENT: You know, the future is very uncertain and, clearly, one of the Russian goals is going to be to try to ensure that the government in Kiev remains as weak as it can be.

KELEMEN: The Obama administration is trying to shore up that government. The interim prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, is to visit the White House on Wednesday. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.