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  • 15 March 2014, 9:37

Ukraine Crisis Talks Fail To Reach Deal

Tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine continue after lengthy talks aimed at defusing the stand-off ended without agreement.

After discussions lasting more than five hours, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would respect the outcome of a controversial breakaway vote in Crimea, which Western powers have branded "illegitimate".

And US Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia's approval of the referendum result would amount to "a backdoor annexation of Crimea".

America and the European Union have warned Russia of sanctions including asset freezes and travel bans unless a planned vote on the southern region joining Russia is called off.

But Mr Lavrov said such measures would be a "counter-productive instrument".

Russian forces moved to seize Crimea within days of Ukraine's pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych being forced from office, after three months of demonstrations against a decision to ditch closer ties with the European Union in favour of Russia.

Crimea is home to Russia's Black Sea fleet and the majority of the population are ethnic Russians.

But it has fuelled claims the referendum is being "conducted under the barrel of a gun".

Mr Lavrov compared the situation in Crimea to Britain's action in the Falklands.

He said: "Are there precedents in international law? There are precedents of course.

"Everybody understands that Crimea for Russia is something really important, what it means for Russia.

"It means immeasurably more for Russia than the Falklands means for the United Kingdom or Comoros for France."

Speaking through an interpreter, Mr Lavrov told a news conference: "We have to respect the results of this referendum."

He also rejected Western calls for the creation of an international contact group on the Ukraine to resolve the crisis.

Mr Lavrov insisted Moscow had "no plans of military intrusion into eastern Ukraine" following clashes which left at least one person dead.

But Mr Kerry told journalists the referendum was "illegitimate" and flew in the face of international law.

He said: "Neither we nor the international community will recognise the results of this referendum."

Mr Kerry said no "threats" were being made to Russia about sanctions but there were "consequences for the choices" it makes.

He also stressed the US recognised Moscow had "legitimate interests" in Crimea, which needed to be addressed.

But he said: "We believe that a decision to move forward by Russia to ratify the vote officially within the Duma would in fact be a back-door annexation of Crimea.

"It would be against international law and, frankly, fly in the face of every legitimate effort to try to reach out to Russia and others to say there is a different way to protect the interests of Crimeans, to protect Russia's interests and to respect the integrity of Ukraine and the sovereignty of Ukraine."

Foreign Secretary William Hague, who had earlier acknowledged it would be "formidably difficult" for Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov to make progress, called for a "firm and united" response from the European Union.

He described the failure of the talks as "deeply disappointing" and condemned Russia's decision to support Sunday's "illegal, unconstitutional and illegitimate" referendum - which is widely expected to deliver an overwhelming vote to break away from Ukraine.

"The United Kingdom is strongly of the view that there must be a firm and united response from the European Union at the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday, and that the time has come for tougher restrictive measures to be adopted as previously agreed by EU nations," he said.

"The door remains open for diplomacy and dialogue and we urge the Russian government to take action to lower tensions and enter into direct talks with the Ukrainian government.

"But we are clear that the flagrant violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine cannot go unchallenged, and we stand with the Ukrainian people in their right to choose their future free of intimidation and interference."

EU foreign ministers will meet in Brussels on Monday to discuss sanctions, and it is understood ambassadors are meeting in secret session where a list is being drawn up of individuals who could be targeted by measures.

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