Russian PM Medvedev visits Crimea in wake of annexation

US and Russia agree diplomatic solution needed but four hours of talks fail to break deadlock

Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev (centre) visits an upper secondary school today  with Crimea’s prime minister Sergei Aksyonov (right) in the Crimean city of Simferopol. Photograph: Alexander Astafyev/RIA Novosti/Reuters

Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev (centre) visits an upper secondary school today with Crimea’s prime minister Sergei Aksyonov (right) in the Crimean city of Simferopol. Photograph: Alexander Astafyev/RIA Novosti/Reuters

Mon, Mar 31, 2014, 13:24

Russia’s prime minister has arrived in Crimea to consider priorities for its economic development following the Russian takeover.

Dmitry Medvedev is leading a delegation of cabinet ministers and is chairing a meeting to discuss priorities for federal assistance to the region, which Russia annexed from Ukraine earlier this month.

The annexation followed a hastily called referendum held just two weeks after Russian forces had overtaken the Black Sea region, in which an overwhelming majority of voters backed joining Russia.

Ukraine and the West have rejected the vote.

Deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin, part of Mr Medvedev’s retinue, tweeted a photo of himself upon arrival in Crimea, with the words “Crimea is ours, and that’s that.”

Ukraine this afternoon denounced the Medvedev visit to Crimea, describing it as a “crude violation” of the rules of international behaviour.

“The Ukrainian foreign ministry, in its note to the Russian Federation, expressed a categorical protest and stated that the visit of an official person to the territory of another state without preliminary agreement is a crude violation of the rules of the international community,” ministry spokesman Evhen Perebiynis told journalists.

Earlier, the US and Russia agreed that a diplomatic solution for Ukraine is needed, but four hours of talks still failed to break the tense East-West deadlock on how to proceed.

US secretary of state John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov met in Paris over Moscow’s response to a US plan to de-escalate the crisis.

Mr Kerry stressed that Ukraine would have to be at the table for negotiations and said the Russian troop build-up along the border was creating a climate of fear and intimidation. Even though the troops were still on Russian soil, they created a negative atmosphere, he noted.

“The question is not one of right or legality,” he said. “The question is one of strategic appropriateness and whether it’s smart at this moment of time to have troops massed on the border.”

‘Loose federation’

As he called for Moscow to begin an immediate pullback of the troops, Mr Kerry also ruled out discussion of Russia’s demand for Ukraine to become a loose federation - until and unless Ukrainians were at the table.

“It is not up to us to make any decision or agreement regarding federalisation. It is up to Ukrainians,” he said.

At a separate briefing, Mr Lavrov said Ukraine could not function as a “unified state” and should be a loose federation of regions that choose their own economic model, language and religion.

He said he and Mr Kerry discussed the possibility of a federated Ukrainian state at “very, very constructive” talks.

Mr Lavrov said they agreed to work with the Ukrainian government to improve rights for Russian-speaking Ukrainians and disarming “irregular forces and provocateurs”.

The talks are part of broader diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis in Ukraine after protests drove out a pro-Russian president and Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in response.