Secretary of State John Kerry announced a tentative agreement with Russia on a path to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine after a meeting between U.S., Russian, Ukrainian and European officials in Geneva Thursday.
Kerry said Russia has agreed to refrain from violence and from encouraging separatist threats. In return, Ukraine has pledged amnesty to all of the pro-Russian separatists who have seized buildings and territory in eastern Ukraine as long as they lay down their weapons and disperse.
Ahead of the meeting, the U.S. had prepared new sanctions to impose on Russia if the talks failed to resolve the standoff. But the agreement, outlined in a document that all parties signed, is likely to at least postpone any additional sanctions against Russia. Kerry though said lifting the current sanctions in place against Russia did not come up because any discussion of it would be “premature.”
Kerry cautioned that the deal is only preliminary and could unravel if either Russia or Ukraine does not fulfill its commitments in the next few days.
“We expect over the next few days some of these steps need to be seen and there needs to be evidence… If we're not able to see progress then we will have no choice but to impose further costs on Russia,” Kerry said in Geneva, following the meeting, which included Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, along with representatives from Ukraine and the EU.
“And we are the first to understand and agree that words on paper will only mean what the actions taken as a result of those words produce,” he added.
As part of the agreement, international inspectors will be deployed to eastern Ukraine to ensure that the rights of all groups, including ethnic Russians, are being protected.
These inspectors, Kerry said, “need to get to work immediately and people need to provide them the immediate access in order for them to do that job.”
President Obama in a call to Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier in the week called on Moscow to disperse thousands of troops it has amassed at the Ukrainian border that are poised to cross the border and invade at any time.
Kerry said that Russia has withdrawn one battalion “in response to our insistence of movement” and Russian officials say “they are fully prepared” to disperse troops in larger numbers as they see the rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine being protected over time.
He said Russian officials made no commitments with respect to how they plan to handle Ukrainian debt and overdue gas payments because the talks mainly focused on the immediate task of de-escalating the crisis.
“We do not envision this as the full measure of de-escalating. This is just the beginning,” Kerry said. “It depends on the good faith of parties following through. We're going to watch that very, very closely.”
The issue of Crimea and Russia's annexation of the region was not settled during the talks, although he pledged that “nobody has left behind the issue.”
Lavrov, however, in a separate press conference, reportedly said the issue had been settled.
“Crimea has made its choice and we have accepted,” he said.
This story was published at 1:46 p.m. and has been updated.