“We lack a common vision of the situation, and differences remain,” Lavrov said of his Ukraine negotiations with Kerry before heading back to Russia.
However, he said Moscow has no plans to invade southeast regions in Ukraine. Thousands of Russian troops amassed on Ukraine’s eastern border this week, including large artillery exercises involving 8,500 soldiers in the Rostov region alone.
U.S. officials have derided the exercises as an intimidation tactic and noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a similar buildup of troops in and around Crimea immediately before pro-Russian forces in the region overtook the local government and began policing streets with militias.
The diplomatic stalemate marked a disappointing and last-ditch effort by the West to avoid a new diplomatic chill from growing between Putin and Europe and the U.S. The showdown has been cast as a struggle for the future of Ukraine, a country with a size and population similar to France.
Much of western Ukraine favors ties with the 28-nation European Union, while many in the eastern part of the country have closer economic and traditional ties to Russia. Putin has worked for months to press Ukraine back into Russia’s political and economic orbit.
The West has resisted threatening the use of military force to keep Putin in check. Instead, officials have warned Moscow it will face a series of harsh sanctions against Russian officials and businesses, as well as others in Ukraine, who undermined the new government in Kiev that took over after deadly protests demanding economic opportunities offered in the West.
The EU and U.S. will impose sanctions as early as Monday.
“If the referendum takes place, there will be some sanctions,” Kerry said. “There’ll be some response.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron echoed the sanctions threat.
“We want to see Ukrainians and the Russians talking to each other,” Cameron told Kerry in a separate meeting Friday in London. “And if they don’t, then there are going to have to be consequences.”