Kerry won't visit Russia until Moscow shows 'seriousness' on Ukraine

By Hannah Allam

The State Department fired back Monday at Russian claims that Secretary of State John Kerry had declined an invitation to visit Moscow to discuss the Ukraine crisis.

Kerry's spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, told reporters in Washington that Russia had yet to show a "seriousness" to plans for direct talks with Ukraine, a U.S. precondition to deeper engagement on the crisis.

Psaki said Russia would first need to recognize the new Ukrainian government - which replaced the ousted Moscow-backed regime -- and stop military maneuvers and annexation attempts in Crimea, the Moscow-aligned region of Ukraine now under Russian occupation.

Psaki noted that Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, met in person last week and that a future in-person meeting hadn't been ruled out. But for now, she said, there's no trip to Moscow in the cards.

The Russians offer a different version of events.

According to a Radio Free Europe/Reuters report:

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has declined an invitation to visit Russia for further talks on the Ukraine crisis.

Lavrov, at a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on March 10, said he had been handed proposals by Kerry to resolve the situation which, he said, "did not completely suit us."

"Last Friday John Kerry forwarded me a paper I told you about. In it we found a concept [of the resolution of the Ukrainian crisis] which sort of does not really suit us," Lavrov said. "It is because [the document] was formulated around the presence of a so-called conflict between Russia and Ukraine and also around the need to recognize the de facto situation. Thus our partners suggest that we proceed from the situation that has been created thanks to the coup [in Kyiv] and take subsequent steps that they find necessary under such circumstances."

Lavrov provided few additional details on the Washington proposals.

A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the diplomacy, said the paper in question was simply a set of proposals for mechanisms to start direct Ukrainian-Russian negotiations. But no way would Kerry travel all the way to Russia just to "have them say, 'No, no, no,' to everything."

Without solid moves such as dropping the Feb. 21 agreement as a precondition and allowing international monitors into Crimea, diplomacy is paralyzed, the official said, suggesting that tKerry wasn't willing to risk a high-profile visit to Moscow that ends in failure.

"We're not just going to go there and be rolled," the official said.

by Hannah Allam
McClatchy Interactive