Saturday, March 15, 2014

Kerry-Lavrov Talks on Crimea Crisis Break Down

Kerry-Lavrov Talks on Crimea Crisis Break Down

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Updated March 14, 2014 7:15 p.m. ET

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stand together before a a meeting at Winfield House in London on Friday. Associated Press
LONDON—A last-minute U.S. diplomatic effort aimed at halting Sunday's referendum in Crimea on joining Russia collapsed after six hours, pushing the West to the verge of imposing punishing sanctions on Moscow that would raise East-West tensions to new heights.
The rupture Friday of negotiations shifted pressing new importance onto what happens over the next few days: Sunday's vote in Crimea, the Kremlin's reaction to the results, the response by the West and the ominous military movements along the Ukrainian border by Russia.
President Barack Obama and European leaders vowed after the diplomatic failure to begin imposing sanctions on Russia quickly if the Crimean region votes to secede from Ukraine.
Mr. Lavrov spoke at a press conference at the Russian Ambassador's residence in London following a meeting with Mr. Kerry Friday. Associated Press
Russia continued staging military exercises with thousands of troops along its border with Ukraine, stoking Western fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin could seek to hive off additional territory from the former Soviet republic.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry after his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. AP
U.S. and Russian officials didn't rule out Mr. Putin's moving within days to absorb Crimea after Sunday's vote.
"It's pointless to speculate, we need to wait for the results," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in London after his talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. "Everyone understands, and I say this with all responsibility, what Crimea means to Russia."
The peninsula was Russian territory until 1954 and is home to Russia's main naval base on the Black Sea.
Mr. Kerry and other U.S. officials publicly stressed that the door for discussions over Ukraine remained open and that there were ways for the West to address Moscow's security concerns.
U.S. officials said they raised with Mr. Lavrov the prospects of Crimea's largely Russian-speaking population getting more autonomy, including greater power over taxes, education, language and voting. They also entertained the prospect that Russia's parliament, the Duma, could decide not to ratify the annexation of Crimea after the referendum.
The American delegation in London, however, expressed little real optimism that Mr. Putin would pull his support for Crimea's secession or step back from his commitment to absorbing the strategic peninsula.
Mr. Kerry said Mr. Lavrov didn't appear empowered by the Kremlin to engage in negotiations on any American proposals that might leave Crimea a part of Ukraine.
"I presented a number of ideas on behalf of the president, which we believe absolutely could provide a path forward for all the parties," Mr. Kerry said. "However, after much discussion, the foreign minister made it clear that President Putin is not prepared to make any decision regarding Ukraine until after the referendum on Sunday."
The two men met at the residence of the U.S. ambassador in central London, a gardened mansion called Winfield House.
They interspersed their negotiations with at least three walks around the estate's manicured lawns, according to U.S. and Russian officials. Mr. Kerry was seen kicking a soccer ball as he walked alongside Mr. Lavrov in one photo released by Russia's Foreign Ministry.
A U.S. official said that at one point in the talks, Mr. Lavrov broke from the room and telephoned Russia, presumably Mr. Putin. The American didn't describe what might have transpired during the call.
A referendum in Crimea to decide whether the region will stay within Ukraine or become part of Russia will take place this Sunday. Here's all you need to know about the vote. Photo: Getty Images
The Obama administration, in the wake of the failed talks, moved quickly to put more pressure on Moscow while leaving the door open for more talks—potentially with Mr. Putin himself.
"We continue to hope that there's a diplomatic solution to be found, but the United States and Europe stand united not only in its message about Ukrainian sovereignty but also that there will be consequences if, in fact, that sovereignty continues to be violated," Mr. Obama said at the White House following a meeting with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny.
U.S. and European officials said they were accelerating consultations about the process of imposing travel bans and asset freezes on key Russian officials. Those discussions are set to take place Monday at a meeting of European foreign ministers in Brussels.
U.S. officials also said they were alarmed about the prospects for greater conflict in Ukraine and the deployment of more Russian troops.
Russia's foreign minister, while appearing to rule out deploying Russian forces elsewhere in Ukraine, also had his ministry issue a statement that said Moscow reserved the right to protect people in the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine, where it said the Kiev government didn't have control.
The ministry accused Kiev of failing to protect demonstrators in the eastern city of Donetsk, where rival demonstrators clashed Thursday night, leaving at least one dead.
The new, Kiev-backed governor in Donetsk on Friday said Russians were behind the clashes and accused Moscow of distorting the truth in its account of what happened, Reuters reported.
The Russian-backed local leader in Crimea, meanwhile, said that he expected legislation to absorb the new territory to be passed in Moscow as soon as this coming week, with the region becoming a fully integrated part of Russia within a year.
The Pentagon responded to the heightened tensions by announcing that a U.S. aircraft carrier and its battle group would remain on assignment in the Mediterranean Sea for several extra days, as Washington continues to cast a wary eye on the crisis in and around Ukraine.
"We will continue our operations in the Mediterranean for a few more days to do additional training and enhance maritime capabilities in the region," said Col. Steve Warren, the Pentagon spokesman.
Col. Warren said the USS George H.W. Bush's extended presence in the Mediterranean was part of an effort to reassure American allies worried about Russia's actions in Ukraine, where a military intervention is under way in the Crimea region.
"A lot of what we are doing there now is to reassure our allies," Col. Warren said. The U.S. also has stepped up air patrols over the Baltic region and is increasing aviation training in Poland.
—Gregory L. White in Moscow and Julian E. Barnes in Washington contributed to this article.
Corrections & Amplifications
Talks between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov over this weekend's referendum on Crimea joining Russia broke down after five hours Friday. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said they broke down on Wednesday.
Write to Jay Solomon at and Geoffrey T. Smith at
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John McCain on Responding to Russia’s Aggression

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Should Russia’s invasion and looming annexation of Crimea be blamed on President Barack Obama? Of course not, just as it should not be blamed on NATO expansion, the Iraq war or Western interventions to stop mass atrocities in the Balkans and Libya. The blame lies squarely with Vladimir V. Putin, an unreconstructed Russian imperialist and K.G.B. apparatchik.
But in a broader sense, Crimea has exposed the disturbing lack of realism that has characterized our foreign policy under President Obama. It is this worldview, or lack of one, that must change.
For five years, Americans have been told that “the tide of war is receding,” that we can pull back from the world at little cost to our interests and values. This has fed a perception that the United States is weak, and to people like Mr. Putin, weakness is provocative.
That is how Mr. Putin viewed the “reset” policy. United States missile defense plans were scaled back. Allies in Eastern Europe and Georgia were undercut. NATO enlargement was tabled. A new strategic arms reduction treaty required significant cuts by America, but not Russia. Mr. Putin gave little. Mr. Obama promised “more flexibility.”
Mr. Putin also saw a lack of resolve in President Obama’s actions beyond Europe. In Afghanistan and Iraq, military decisions have appeared driven more by a desire to withdraw than to succeed. Defense budgets have been slashed based on hope, not strategy. Iran and China have bullied America’s allies at no discernible cost. Perhaps worst of all, Bashar al-Assad crossed President Obama’s “red line” by using chemical weapons in Syria, and nothing happened to him.
For Mr. Putin, vacillation invites aggression. His world is a brutish, cynical place, where power is worshiped, weakness is despised, and all rivalries are zero-sum. He sees the fall of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” He does not accept that Russia’s neighbors, least of all Ukraine, are independent countries. To him, they are Russia’s “near abroad” and must be brought back under Moscow’s dominion by any means necessary.
What is most troubling about Mr. Putin’s aggression in Crimea is that it reflects a growing disregard for America’s credibility in the world. That has emboldened other aggressive actors — from Chinese nationalists to Al Qaeda terrorists and Iranian theocrats.
Crimea must be the place where President Obama recognizes this reality and begins to restore the credibility of the United States as a world leader. This will require two different kinds of responses.
The first, and most urgent, is crisis management. We need to work with our allies to shore up Ukraine, reassure shaken friends in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States, show Mr. Putin a strong, united front, and prevent the crisis from getting worse.
This does not mean military action against Russia. But it should mean sanctioning Russian officials, isolating Russia internationally, and increasing NATO’s military presence and exercises on its eastern frontier. It should mean boycotting the Group of 8 summit meeting in Sochi and convening the Group of 7 elsewhere. It should also mean making every effort to support and resupply Ukrainian patriots, both soldiers and civilians, who are standing their ground in government facilities across Crimea. They refuse to accept the dismemberment of their country. So should we.
Crimea may be falling under Russian control, but Ukraine has another chance for freedom, rule of law and a European future. To seize that opportunity, Ukrainian leaders must unify the nation and commit to reform, and the West must provide significant financial and other assistance. Bipartisan legislation now before Congress would contribute to this effort.
More broadly, we must rearm ourselves morally and intellectually to prevent the darkness of Mr. Putin’s world from befalling more of humanity. We may wish to believe, as President Obama has said, that we are not “in competition with Russia.” But Mr. Putin believes Russia is in competition with us, and pretending otherwise is an unrealistic basis for a great nation’s foreign policy.
Three American presidents have sought to cooperate with Mr. Putin where our interests converge. What should be clear now, and should have been clear the last time he tore apart a country, is that our interests do not converge much. He will always insist on being our rival.
The United States must look beyond Mr. Putin. His regime may appear imposing, but it is rotting inside. His Russia is not a great power on par with America. It is a gas station run by a corrupt, autocratic regime. And eventually, Russians will come for Mr. Putin in the same way and for the same reasons that Ukrainians came for Viktor F. Yanukovych.
We must prepare for that day now. We should show the Russian people that we support their human rights by expanding the Magnitsky Act to impose more sanctions on those who abuse them. We should stop allowing their country’s most corrupt officials to park ill-gotten proceeds in Western economies. We should prove that countries like Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova have a future in the Euro-Atlantic community, and Russia can, too.
We must do all we can to demonstrate that the tide of history is with Ukraine — that the political values of the West, and not those of an imperial kleptocracy, are the hope of all nations. If Ukraine can emerge from this crisis independent, prosperous and anchored firmly in Europe, how long before Russians begin to ask, “Why not us?” That would not just spell the end of Mr. Putin’s imperial dreams; it would strip away the lies that sustain his rule over Russia itself.
America’s greatest strength has always been its hopeful vision of human progress. But hopes do not advance themselves, and the darkness that threatens them will not be checked by an America in denial about the world as it is. It requires realism, strength and leadership. If Crimea does not awaken us to this fact, I am afraid to think what will.
John McCain is a Republican senator from Arizona.
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The Blame Game in Venezuela

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In the month since mass demonstrations began in Venezuela, at least 25 people have died in the protests. No end to the crisis is in sight, and each day grievances grow, arrests multiply, positions harden and moderates retreat.
There is no easy solution. The government of President Nicolás Maduro still commands strong loyalty from followers of the populist revolutionary Hugo Chávez, who died a year ago, while the opposition is divided and lacking in a common platform beyond despair over the economic mess left behind by “Chavismo.” This is not a “Venezuelan Spring” to be resolved by the exit of a discredited tyrant. Though Mr. Maduro lacks his predecessor’s charisma, his narrow victory in the presidential election last April is not in dispute, and no elections are scheduled before 2015. This is a divided population in urgent need of mediated dialogue.
The protests began in early February with a march by students in the western state of Tachira demanding increased security after an attempted rape. The protests turned violent; several students were arrested; demonstrators turned out in Caracas demanding their release. Three people were killed, and the dam broke. People hit the streets — driven to despair by crime, including one of the highest murder rates in the world; chronic shortages of basic staples, often including milk and toilet paper; raging inflation, which last year reached an annual rate of 56.2 percent; and frequent blackouts. Mr. Maduro’s predictable response in the government-controlled news media has been to blame it all on “fascists” and the United States.
The profound polarization of Venezuelan society certainly poses a major obstacle to any negotiated solution. But, after a month of street battles, Mr. Maduro must be aware that he will not calm the streets through force; most of the demands of the protesters are about releasing jailed leaders and restoring democratic norms. The protesters, for their part, must be aware that week after week of flaming barricades only makes life harder for their countrymen. There are, moreover, viable precedents for resolving such confrontations through dialogue, notably Tunisia.
Mr. Maduro’s Chavismo would reject any mediation by the United States or any Latin American organization it belongs to, such as the Organization of American States. But there must be moderate forces within Venezuela — like the labor unions — or countries and institutions outside Venezuela acceptable to both sides, such as Brazil or Unasur (Union of South American Nations), that could act as mediators. That is, if the confrontation does not escalate out of control.

Senate Investigates C.I.A. -

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But has the C.I.A. also been investigating the Senate?

Putin’s ‘Honest Brokers’ -

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MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin’s decision to slip soldiers in unmarked uniforms into Crimea this month and escalate the race for control over other Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine shows that former assumptions about Moscow’s political behavior no longer apply. The United States and the European Union may still consider sanctions as a tool to check Moscow’s foreign policy, but to Mr. Putin, the threat of such sanctions means little: He has already factored them into his plans.
The chain of events the Kremlin has set in motion contains a message not only for Western policy makers, but also for the Russian plutocrats and corrupt officials who keep much of their wealth in the West. Mr. Putin is letting his Western adversaries know that he is telling his Russian enemies and financially corrupt friends: “If you won’t straighten up and behave as patriots, I am ready to throw you under the bus. If the laws prohibiting you to feather your nests abroad or to serve as ‘foreign agents’ do not persuade you, Western sanctions will do the job.”
After the Russia-supported president of Ukraine, Viktor F. Yanukovych, fled his country on Feb. 22, the Kremlin went into emergency mode. Since then, key decisions have been made by a group of Russia’s top security officials. The diplomatic, military and business establishments have been pushed to the side.
The new ruling circle is now even smaller and more opaque than before. Those insiders who used to counterbalance the Kremlin’s hawks are being marginalized. Strategic decisions on Crimea are made at Security Council meetings presided over by Mr. Putin. Important members include his chief of staff, Sergei B. Ivanov, the council secretary, Nikolai P. Patrushev, the director of the secretary of the Federal Security Service, Aleksandr V. Bortnikov, and the head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, Mikhail Fradkov.
Mr. Putin has surrounded himself with the Kremlin’s version of “honest brokers” — ultraconservative in their conviction that Greater Russia must be restored, people whose values (as Mr. Putin loves to think) are not distorted by vested interests nor driven by the desire for personal financial gain (though many of their relatives have lucrative jobs at state-connected companies — but that is a minor offense by Russian standards).
This inner circle sees Ukraine’s February revolution as Western-led regime change. The fact that the United States and the European Union recognized the Ukrainian interim government and even promised it financial aid was presented in Russia as the ultimate breach of trust by the West. The Kremlin now sees international treaties concerning Ukraine, including the Budapest memorandum to the 1994 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that guarantees Ukraine’s territorial integrity, as null and void.
Mr. Putin says that the nature of Ukraine’s statehood has changed and that it is no longer legitimate. Thus, Russia has the moral right to make a move against Crimea. Moreover, the Kremlin thinking goes, if Moscow had not come up with a quick and forceful response to the West (even at the cost of breaking rules), Russia would have been seen as weak.
When Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, said last week that Vladimir Putin was in “another world,” her statement was widely seen as a tactful attempt at saying that he is crazy. But to many Russians, Mr. Putin’s decisions, though they may have been radical, are not at all irrational.
The All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion, a state-backed polling organization, declared on Thursday that his approval rating exceeds 70 percent and has reached its highest point in three years. Independent pollsters have also found that the Kremlin’s stance on Ukraine and Crimea is popular. “An absolute majority of the Russian public would have approved of Crimea’s accession to Russia,” says Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center, an independent polling firm. “On the other hand, more than 70 percent are against any use of force in Ukraine.”
The self-imposed state of emergency puts Mr. Putin in his element. Here is a sketch of what he is aiming to achieve: A popular leader is once more in tune with the majority of his people. The regime has renewed its mandate. The Westernizers — the rich, the clever and other untrustworthy minorities — are on the other side of the barricade. Honest leaders, people who don’t have bolt-holes in the West, are once more in charge.
For the moment, society is polarized. But a creeping purge of the elites is underway. Anyone who wants to keep a role within the system will have to make a choice: Agree to mobilize his resources for Russia and waive any remnant of property rights, or leave the country and face the consequences. The choice is the same for any public intellectual or journalist — take up a patriotic stance, stop writing, or go into exile.
Any criticism can be presented as unpatriotic. Russia now has an overarching agenda that dwarfs petty issues such as graft or the arbitrary rule of the law-enforcement officials.
That’s the picture the Kremlin’s “honest brokers” would like to see. It’s not yet reality, but life in Russia is moving in that direction. Two independent media outlets have recently been put under new Kremlin-approved management — the large and widely read news site and Russia’s largest social network The state communications authority has blocked three smaller news sites and the web page produced by the opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The independent station TV Dozhd (TV Rain) is also under threat.
Theoretically, Mr. Putin can still pull away from Crimea. By not officially acknowledging those unmarked troops as Russian, he keeps his exit door slightly ajar. But no matter how unclear his intentions are regarding Ukraine, there is little doubt that he is fully committed to his dystopian vision of a united, patriotic Russia. As a response to the bottom-up revolution in Kiev he has started a top-down revolution in Moscow.
Maxim Trudolyubov is the opinion page editor of the business newspaper Vedomosti.

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