Ukraine Liveblog Day 42: Diplomacy Takes Center Stage

March 31, 2014
John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov meet in Paris on March 30, 2014 | REUTERS/JACQUELYN MARTIN/POOL

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met for four hours today to work to find a diplomatic solution to this crisis. Differences remain, but will diplomacy have any effect?

Yesterday’s liveblog can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see our latest podcast.

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Below we will be making regular updates throughout the day. Be sure to visit or refresh the page often.

2112 GMT: An informal briefing of the UN Security Council on conditions in the Crimea took place this afternoon at UN Headquarters in New York at the invitation of the Lithuanian Mission to the UN under the Arria formula. Speakers were Mustafa Dzhemilev (Cemilev), Crimean Tatar leader, and Crimean journalist Valentyna Samar.

As expected, Russia’s Amb. Vitaly Churkin did not attend, as did other members who were not specified. At a stake-out for reporters after the meeting, Rita Kazragiene, deputy permanent representative of Lithuania to the UN took a question from a reporter who cited a Russian statement that meeting was “inappropriate” and “a distraction” and that “Crimea is now part of the Russian Federation and not on the Security Council agenda any more.”

Kazragiene replied, “According to majority of the Security Council members and the General Assembly, that is not the case; the Crimea is still part of Ukraine; the referendum is illegal, and there is support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”

2050 GMT: Not much new information has emerged about tonight’s shooting in Kiev, though some reporters are now on the scene:

2014 GMT: Right Sector (Pravyy Sektor) has released the following statement on tonight’s shooting incident in Kiev (Google-translated below):

Tonight, March 31, 2014 near the European Square in Kiev there was an unfortunate incident involving representatives of the “Square Self-Defense” and “right sector.” Misunderstanding arising on home soil, resulted in conflict with firearms. As a result of the shooting was not without its victims.

At the scene the police were right. The conflict by “the right sector” voluntarily without opposing guards, went with them to the police station to establish the circumstances of the event.

“Right sector” stands for objective, impartial investigation into the incident and will not interfere in the investigation, although observe its progress. We are interested in establishing the truth, so do not rush with excuses. However, we promise to make sure of that event internal disciplinary findings.

1956 GMT: Tense moments, but it seems like, for now, with all this firepower in the streets, things in Kiev are calm. It’s not clear how what happened matches up with the reports we carried earlier:




1842 GMT: While we wait on more details from Kiev, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has made a surprise visit to Crimea:

Mr Medvedev toured a children’s hospital and a secondary school in Simferopol, and held talks with Crimea’s Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov, before visiting Russia’s Black Sea fleet base in Sevastopol.

“As a result of joining Russia, not one resident of Crimea, not one resident in Sevastopol should lose anything. They can only gain,” he said.

He announced plans for Crimea to become a “special economic zone”, designed to attract investors with lower tax rates, and to modernise the region’s hospitals which he said were outdated.

But someone in the Kremlin has made a mistake – or perhaps they slept through the speech that Putin gave which officially annexed Crimea:

Translation: @IamKrus A mix-up has occurred


Translation: @Medvedev Sevastopol – city of our military glory @ Alley of Cities of Heroes | Ukraine.

“Ukraine,” of course, is a geolocation stamp put their automatically by Tweetdeck.

1838 GMT: We have translated the article on Pravda on the shooting in Kiev:

Ukrainskaya Pravda and Segodnya report a shoot-out at a restaurant called “Mafia” on the main avenue of Kreshchatik in which three people have been wounded.

The gunmen burst into the restaurant and barricaded themselves in the bathroom. Fighters from Right Sector and Maidan Self-Defense came to the scene and were debating whether ot try to neutralize the gunmen before the police arrived.

As of 21:00 local time, journalist Mikhaylina Skorik reported that one of the wounded is Bohdan Dubas, first deputy chairman of the Kiev State City Administration and the second is a self-defense fighter. The third was not yet identified. She said that “guys in masks from Right Sector” who looked to be teen-agers were among those who appeared to be the shooters.

According to Anatoly Medved, a sotnik [self defense fighter], the conflict with Right Sector occurred “over the issue of taking down the tents, the question of dismantling the barricades”. The shots were fired from a combat pistol. The gunmen retreated to the Hotel Dniepr. A Right Sector nick-named “Iranian” refused to identify the Right Sector gunman.

1830 GMT: Looking at the Pravda article, they report that one of those wounded in the shooting is the deputy mayor of Kiev, Bogdan Dubas, and he was shot by Right Sector activists, but the details are confusing.

Scenes from outside the hotel, which is apparently near the Right Sector headquarters.



The Interior Minister, Arsen Avakov, has made a statement.

1819 GMT: More from Kiev, where a gun battle involving Right Sector members has apparently broken out:

1812 GMT: Some late-breaking news:

We’ve not confirmed the report, but will have more details when we find them.

1511 GMT: The UN Security Council will hold an informal, and somewhat rare, “Arria formula” meeting on Ukraine today.

The meeting will allow the UNSC to discuss Ukraine privately, without the pressures of the formal meetings, but also without the rules that grant certain members significant power. Lithuania released this statement on the meeting:

On 31 March the Permanent Mission of Lithuania to the United Nations organizes an informal meeting of the United Nations (UN) Security Council, in Arria-formula, on the human rights and media freedom situation in Crimea, Ukraine.

The meeting aims at shedding the light on the situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Ukraine, and the City of Sevastopol, Ukraine. Mr. Mustafa Dzhemilev, human rights activist, a Soviet dissident, former Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, member of the Verkhova Rada of Ukraine since 1998, and Ms. Valentyna Samar, Head of Board of the Information Press Center in Simferopol, Chief Editor of the Center of Journalistic Investigation, and member of the Global Investigative Journalism Network, will take part in the meeting.

The meeting will provide the UN Security Council members to ask both speakers to offer their assessment of reports of human rights violations, media situation, and implications of the recent events for many ethnic minorities residing in Crimea.

The meeting is open to all UN Member States.

Dzhemilev has clashed with the Russian government, and his entrance into Crimea has been blocked multiple times. Will Russia attend the meeting? What will be said there? Once again, this could provide a clue into the state of Russia’s thinking on the situation in Ukraine.

1430 GMT: If Sergei Lavrov is changing his tune with John Kerry, he certainly isn’t when he speaks to the Russian press. First, despite a recent investigative report that provided strong evidence that forces tied to ousted-president Viktor Yanukovych were the ones sniping protesters in Maidan in February, Lavrov said that there was evidence that far-right radicals from the Right Sector were behind the killing. Then he made a remark about links between foreign governments and the revolution, according to ITAR-TASS. “Pettiness of foreign sponsors of new authorities in Kiev is astonishing, he added.”

As far as Russian troops in Crimea and mobilized across the border, Lavrov defended these actions:

“Russian military forces are based on the territory of our country. From time to time they hold scheduled, unscheduled and surprise military exercises, as any countries respecting themselves do, because the latter are concerned so that their armed forces will be in combat order,” Lavrov noted.

The recent war games “were transparent and met fully criteria in effect in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).” “All required information about it was sent. In reply to requests made to us we have permitted foreign inspectors including the Americans and Ukrainians to monitor it,” the minister noted.

“Within the Treaty of Open Skies under which flights are made over the territories of signatory nations for air surveillance, such flights were made just a couple of weeks ago at Ukraine’s request,” Lavrov added. “In reports of foreign observers delivered upon results of these inspections we did not find any affirmations that Russia was involved in any dangerous activity during these military manoeuvres,” the Russian top diplomat said.
“We do not have any evil intent and are still open for honest talks. However, no one cancelled the right to move armed forces on your own territory,” the Russian foreign minister added.

As far as diplomacy goes, Lavrov paid a back-handed compliment to John Kerry, and reasserted Russia’s obligation to protect minorities from the radicals in Kiev:

“We meet regularly with John Kerry [U.S. Secretary of State]. It is surprising for me that the Europeans gave a free hand to Washington to deal with Ukrainian issues regarding relations with Russia,” Lavrov noted. “Ideas of forming a contact group [on Ukrainian crisis] are being worked out, we have already said about this many times. A contact group is contemplated as a structure in which Europe and the U.S. will “supervise” how we and Ukrainians start to come to terms on something,” the Russian top diplomat said.
“This is unacceptable, because the problem is not in our relations with Ukraine, but in the fact that Ukrainian society is in a deep crisis of statehood,” he added.
Therefore, Russia proposed another approach. “If our Western partners are prepared Russia, the U.S. and the EU will be able to set up a group of support to Ukraine and to formulate general appeals to those who rule in Ukraine now so that they will put forward an initiative of a dialogue in the whole country and will invite all political forces without exception [naturally not armed radicals] and regions to enter in equitable talks,” the minister noted. “Their outcome will become a new Ukrainian constitution that will ensure a federal system of government that confirms and stipulates an off-bloc position of the country and will guarantee the rights of those who live in Ukraine, primarily, Russian-speaking population is surely important for us, but also the rights of Czechs, Hungarians, Germans and other nationalities living there,” the foreign minister added.

The entire article on ITAR-TASS is worth reading, but the takeaway is this:

  1. Ukraine has been hijacked by radicals.
  2. The West is backing the radicals.
  3. Russia may need to take action to protect civilians from these radicals.
  4. The only option for averting this is a federalized system, with autonomy in the regions.

1359 GMT: Darth Vader is running for President of Ukraine. Really:

The Sith lord, or at least an unnamed costumed protester often seen on Kiev’s Independence Square flanked by his loyal stormtroopers during the winter protests, has been chosen as the official candidate of the Ukrainian Internet party (UIP) which has become known for its theatrical public stunts.

“After winning intra-party primaries by a landslide, comrade Vader will be our party’s candidate,” said the UIP leader, Dmitry Golubov, who spent time in prison after being convicted of using the internet to run a credit card fraud scheme.

The Ukrainian Internet party’s Darth Vader addresses a party congress in Kiev

1351 GMT: Meanwhile, NPR has interviewed people in Belgorod, in Russia near the border with Ukraine, where residents have seen the Russian tanks, and paratroopers, and have had mixed reactions:

A man who asked not to be identified because he feared police retribution says the military vehicles — which were headed toward the nearby border with Ukraine — took residents by surprise.

“We only see paratroopers on national holidays,” he says.

But resident Elena Gupalova says she’s happy to have Russian soldiers nearby so they can protect Belgorod from the strife across the border.

The sales clerk says what’s happening in eastern Ukraine is really terrible. She talks of right-wing extremists murdering people, which she heard about from friends who live in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, an hour’s drive away.

“We want to feel calm and walk on our streets without fear,” Gupalova adds.

She and others here say they also want stability for eastern Ukrainians, whom they call “brothers.”

The Russian residents discussed the various cultural and economic ties between Russia and eastern Ukraine.

1340 GMT: John Kerry has spent four hours today meeting with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The now infamous line, “differences remain,” was used to describe the meeting, though the tone of the messages coming out of the meeting are generally more positive than previous diplomatic encounters.

“Both sides made suggestions of ways to de-escalate the security and political situation in and around Ukraine,” Kerry told a news conference, adding he raised “strong concerns” with Lavrov about the presence of Russian troops on the Ukraine border, which he said created a climate of fear and intimidation…

Kerry added: “In a frank conversation this evening with Foreign Minister Lavrov, I made clear that the United States still considers the Russian actions to be illegal and illegitimate.”

Both Kerry and Lavrov said the Ukrainian government has to be part of the solution.

“Neither Russia, nor the United States, nor anyone else can impose any specific plans on Ukrainians,” Lavrov told a separate briefing as quoted by the RIA news agency.

Kerry said: “The United States is consulting with Ukraine at every step of this process and we will not accept a path forward where a legitimate government of Ukraine is not at the table.

But what does this mean? The Russian government has never accepted Ukraine’s government in Kiev as legitimate, and they continue to paint the pro-EU revolutionaries as neo-Nazi radicals who are a threat to the rest of the world. Is Russia changing it’s position, or just stalling for time?

A look across the border may give us clues. Yesterday there was one report, coming from a website that was recently blocked in Russia, suggesting that Russian troops were actually withdrawing from the border. If this is confirmed, or debunked, it could mean that there has been a diplomatic breakthrough.