- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 30, 2014

Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian officials Sunday to discuss a diplomatic solution to tensions along Ukraine’s borders, as American lawmakers expressed concerns that Vladimir Putin has designs on more territory in the region.

Mr. Kerry met with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in Paris as U.S. analysts and members of Congress weighed the build-up of tens of thousands of Russian soldiers along Ukraine’s eastern edge.

“Frankly, I think he wants to pocket the Crimean victory,” Gen. Michael Haydon, former director of the National Security Agency and the CIA, told CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “I think he wants to make that a fact beyond contradiction. I think the talks between Lavrov and Secretary Kerry will not talk about Crimea. That’ll be locked in and will not change.”

The unfolding confrontation between the U.S. and Mr. Putin is part of the fallout from the Russian president’s decision to seize the Crimean peninsula in the wake of Ukrainian protests that ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.

In Paris, the meeting between Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov ended without any reported breakthroughs, though the Russian minister agreed noncommittally to take back to Moscow some U.S. proposals for pulling back Russian troops from the border with Ukraine.

Russia says Ukraine should be unified in a federation allowing wide autonomy to its various regions, a proposal Mr. Kerry ruled out as long as the Kremlin continues to threaten Ukraine by amassing its forces.

“The Russian troop buildup is creating a climate of fear and intimidation in Ukraine,” Mr. Kerry told reporters after the meeting. For his part, Mr. Lavrov held a separate news conference at which he didn’t mention the troop buildups.

On Friday President Obama, in a call initiated by Mr. Putin, said he wants to see a diplomatic solution that includes Moscow engaging in a direct dialogue with the government in Kiev and a pullback of Russian troops from the Ukrainian border. The U.S. also wants to ensure fair and free elections in Ukraine on May 25.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said Sunday the phone call gives her hope for a diplomatic solution.

“I get the Crimea thing … the Ukrainian situation is very, very different,” she told CNN’s “State of the Union.” She hopes that Russia “will find, as has been termed, an off ramp and not go ahead with this and that diplomacy is able to make up for it.”

While some say Mr. Putin does not want a nasty confrontation with the West, Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican, said the Russian leader is “not looking for a way out,” either.

Specifically, Mr. Putin appears to be eyeing a “land bridge” of sorts along the top of the Black Sea, from its holdings near Georgia in the east to Moldova in the west, with Crimea in between.

“So if you look at all the possibilities that they lay out on the table, it is really concerning,” Mr. Rogers, chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence who said this week he will not seek re-election, told “Fox News Sunday.” “And I doubt Putin called [Mr. Obama] because he thought that he wasn’t in the best spot in that particular conversation.”

For its part, Russia’s insists it will not resort to force.

“We have absolutely no intention of, or interest in, crossing Ukraine’s borders,” Mr. Lavrov said Sunday.

This story is based in part on wire reports.

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