Russia and Ukraine struck a deal Thursday to end unrest in eastern Ukraine stoked by pro-Russian militants, Secretary of State John Kerry said.
The militants must refrain from violence, lay down their illegal weapons and return seized buildings to their rightful owners, Kerry said. In return, Ukraine agreed to offer amnesty to protesters who had not committed capital crimes.
Kerry called the agreement “a good day’s work,” but warned that the United States would impose further sanctions on Russia if it didn’t see progress soon.
“None of us leave here with the sense that the job is done because the words are on the paper,” he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed the outlines of the deal.
President Barack Obama told reporters at the White House that Ukraine had “gone out of its way” to promise protections for Russian speakers in southern and eastern Ukraine, including that they would be fully represented in government.
Obama, too, sounded a note of caution.
“I don’t think we can be sure of anything at this point,” he said. Considering Russia’s behavior, he said, “we have to be prepared to respond to what continue to be efforts of interference by the Russians in eastern and southern Ukraine.”
He said that U.S. military options are not on the table.
The agreement came after Kerry met in Geneva with Lavrov and their counterparts from Ukraine and the European Union. It was the first time the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers had met since the crisis erupted.
Pro-Russian militants have taken control of government buildings in cities throughout eastern Ukraine, and an estimated 40,000 Russian troops are staged along the Russian-Ukrainian border.
The tension in the east has escalated since late February, when Russian troops emerged from their barracks in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and gradually took control. The peninsula voted to secede, and Russia annexed it March 21.
Kerry also confirmed that Jews in one eastern Ukrainian city had been ordered to identify themselves as Jews. He said that extremism, racism and religious intolerance were unacceptable.
“In the year 2014, after all the miles traveled and all of the journey of history, this is not just intolerable and grotesque. It is beyond unacceptable,” he said.
Earlier Thursday, President Vladimir Putin said on a televised call-in program that Russian special forces are not stoking unrest in eastern Ukraine, directly contradicting claims by the United States and NATO.
He reserved the right to send Russian troops into the region. He said that he hoped the Ukraine crisis would be resolved through political and diplomatic means.
— Erin McClam
First published April 17 2014, 10:04 AM