“We prepared, together with members of the Russian Security Council, our counter-proposals. They aim to resolve the situation on the basis of international law and take into account the interests of all Ukrainians without exception,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a televised meeting with President Vladimir Putin.
At a meeting with Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Lavrov said he received proposals from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry which “did not completely satisfy us”. Lavrov also said Kerry had declined an invitation to visit Russia for further talks.
On Monday the State Department clarified Kerry’s stance, saying the top U.S. diplomat needed clear evidence that Russia will stop its military advance into Ukraine and engage seriously in American diplomatic proposals to de-escalate the crisis before meeting with Lavrov.
Moscow has consistently described the ouster of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych as the illegal overthrow of a legitimate head of state.
Russian news agencies report Yanukovych is expected to make his second public appearance since stepping down and fleeing Kyiv last month on Tuesday.
Meantime, NATO will start reconnaissance flights over Poland and Romania to monitor the situation in Ukraine, the alliance said Monday. Ukraine is not a NATO member but Russia’s actions in Crimea have alarmed neighboring countries, including alliance members that used to be dominated by the Soviet Union.
Russian forces have tightened their grip on Crimea as authorities in the breakaway territory push their proposal to join Moscow, a decision it plans to put to a referendum on March 16.
The U.S. ambassador to Ukraine said Monday that the United States is still ruling out possible military action in Crimea. Geoffrey Pyatt said any diplomatic solution must address Moscow’s interests in the strategically important peninsula. Pyatt reiterated that the U.S. will not recognize the results of the “so-called” referendum in Crimea set for March 16.
The White House said Monday that President Barack Obama began a new round of diplomatic consultations on Ukraine with phone calls to Chinese President Xi Jinping, Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Despite international objections, the chief of Crimea’s election commission said Monday that he is moving ahead with preparations for next Sunday’s unification referendum. Myhkailo Malyshev said all registered Crimean voters are eligible to vote.
Crimea has invited observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor the referendum, according to Russia’s RIA news agency.
On Saturday, an unarmed observer mission from the same Vienna-based group tried to cross into Crimea but had to turn back after warning shots were fired. Ukraine’s interim prime minister vowed Sunday not to give up “a single centimeter” of territory.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk is scheduled to meet Obama on Wednesday to discuss the standoff over Crimea, a strategic peninsula in southern Ukraine with a Russian-speaking majority.
A Russian lawmaker said the Kremlin had set aside $1.1 billion to rebuild Crimea’s industrial infrastructure if the disputed region votes to join Russia.
Putin has defended the separatist drive in Crimea as consistent with international law, and a regional leader said Ukrainian troops remaining there should leave the territory unless they renounce their loyalty to Kyiv.
Unidentified armed men fired in the air as they moved into a Ukrainian naval post in Crimea on Monday in the latest confrontation, according to local media.
Ukraine’s Channel 5 television quoted Ukrainian defense official Vladislav Seleznyov as saying the shooting took place in mid-afternoon at a motor pool base near Bakhchisaray.
Watchdog Reporters Without Borders said Monday that unidentified gunmen seized two female Ukrainian journalists in Crimea. The group warned that attacks on the media were attempts to turn the region into a “black hole for news.”
As demonstrators staged rival rallies in Crimea and throughout Ukraine, street violence flared in Sevastopol when pro-Russian activists and Cossacks attacked a group of Ukrainians.
In the ethnic Russian eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, the Kyiv Post said 7,000 demonstrators in Lenin Square tore down a Ukrainian flag, replacing it with the Russian tricolor ensign and chanting “Putin our president” and “referendum.”
In Kyiv, former imprisoned Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky implored a pro-Western crowd to believe that not all Russians support Moscow’s recent actions in Ukraine.
Russia denies it has troops on the peninsula beyond those regularly stationed with its Sevastopol-based Black Sea fleet. Ukraine’s much smaller navy is also based in the Crimean port city. Witnesses say although the soldiers have no insignia identifying them, they are clearly Russian.