LONDON — The top U.S. and Russian diplomats tried but failed Friday to avert escalation of the conflict over the
Secretary of State
"There will be consequences if Russia does not find a way to change course," Kerry told reporters after six hours of talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. "We don't say that as a threat. We say that as a direct consequence of the choices that Russia may or may not choose to make here."
The U.S. and the
Lavrov made it clear that Russian President
Lavrov said his talks with Kerry failed to reach a "common vision" on how to proceed. He repeated Russia's contention that the new Ukrainian government was illegitimate because it came to power after what the Kremlin calls an unconstitutional deposing of President
Moscow continues to recognize this Sunday's referendum as a valid expression of self-determination among the people of Crimea, Lavrov said. A majority of Crimea's 2 million residents are ethnic Russians, and the peninsula is home to Russia's Black Sea fleet and popular vacation resorts.
"Everybody understands that Crimea, for Russia, is something really important," Lavrov said of the territory, which was part of Russia for centuries before being ceded to Soviet Ukraine in 1954.
Kerry said the U.S. acknowledged that Russia had legitimate interests in Crimea but said they should be pursued through diplomacy, not armed might.
"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," Obama said.
The political maneuvers occurred as pro- and anti-secession demonstrators took to the streets of Crimea.
As more troops and military hardware from Russia arrived, opponents of secession lined up along a highway west of the Crimean capital, Simferopol. About 2,000 people sang the Ukrainian national anthem, hoisted the country's blue-and-yellow flags and brandished signs declaring "Crimea is not Russia," "No to war!" and "Down with Putin!"
"What Putin is doing with Ukraine by cutting off Crimea will open a Pandora's box for the entire Europe if not the entire world," said Vasily Ovcharuk, a 62-year-old retiree. "If Russia just swallows Crimea and gets away with it, Japan may demand its [northern Kuril] islands back from Russia, Finland will feel it now has a legitimate right to demand its own part of Russian Karelia and Germany may claim [the Russian] Kaliningrad region back."
As the defenders of Ukraine's sovereignty demonstrated on Simferopol's fringes, motorists with Russian flags drove by yelling "Scum!" at the protesters.
Meanwhile, the Russian military moved about 100 armored personnel carriers, military trucks, artillery pieces and missile launchers closer to Ukraine's mainland Kherson region north of Crimea, Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman Vladislav Seleznev said.
In the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, Yanukovich's hometown, demonstrators from opposing sides clashed overnight, leaving one anti-secession activist dead and 26 people injured.
The rival groups had been separated by a police cordon until one side broke through and attacked the other, RIA Novosti reported, without saying which group started the fighting. Western news agency accounts said the pro-Russia side charged the other, and Donetsk regional Gov. Sergei Taruta said the fighting was provoked by "non-Ukrainian citizens." Taruta appealed to Moscow to end what he called interference in the region.
Russia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the Donetsk clash demonstrated that the new leaders in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, had "lost control of the country."
Putin has justified his armed intervention by claiming that ethnic Russians in Ukraine are at risk under the new government in Kiev.
The U.N. assistant secretary-general for human rights, Ivan Simonovic, who was dispatched by the world body to assess the situation of minorities in Ukraine, told reporters in Kiev on Friday that he had found "no sign of human rights violations of such a proportion, of such widespread intensity that would require any military measures." Simonovic said he was barred by Russian gunmen from extending his fact-finding trip into Crimea.
"The so-called referendum in the Ukrainian Autonomous Republic of Crimea planned on 16 March would be a direct violation of the Ukrainian Constitution and international law," Rasmussen said. "If held, it would have no legal effect or political legitimacy."
In his statement, the Danish chief of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said Ukraine had been discussed at a meeting Friday of representatives from all 50 states engaged in the alliance's Partnership for Peace initiative and that "many partners associated themselves with NATO's concerns."
He called on Russia to "act responsibly" and uphold its obligations under international law to respect Ukraine's territorial integrity.