Secretary of State John Kerry pushed his Russian counterpart Thursday to allow international monitors into the Crimea region of Ukraine, at a moment when the West is looking for a peaceful resolution to the conflict and Crimea is moving toward a referendum to split from Ukraine.
A senior state department official said Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who were both in Rome for the International Conference on Libya, stepped aside to discuss the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, where more than 10,000 pro-Russian troops have reportedly taken control of the Crimean peninsula. Kerry also encouraged the Russians to open a line of dialogue with the new government of Ukraine.
"The Secretary made clear the importance of the Russians talking directly to the Ukrainians, and the two discussed possible formats for how that dialogue might take place," the senior State Department official said. "Secretary Kerry also pressed the importance of allowing international monitors into Crimea and Eastern Ukraine to see first-hand the situation on the ground.”
Earlier Thursday, a mission of 35 military observers from Europe’s Organization for Security and Cooperation, which includes Russia, was prevented from entering Crimea by unidentified men in military fatigues, the Polish defense minister said, according to Reuters.
Lavrov told Interfax news agency that no agreement was reached at his meeting with Kerry, Reuters reports.
"We want to better clarify what our partners mean when they propose the creation of various international mechanisms," he said.
The Obama administration paved the way Thursday for financial sanctions and imposed visa restrictions on Russian officials, as the regional parliament in Crimea voted unanimously in favor of splitting with Ukraine and joining Russia, scheduling a referendum for March 16.
—with reporting from Zeke J Miller