POLITICS: PennAve

White House: Russia should pull back troops to 'pre-crisis' levels

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Politics,White House,Russia,National Security,PennAve,Meghashyam Mali,Jay Carney,Foreign Policy,Ukraine,Crimea

The White House on Monday urged Russia to drawdown military troops to “pre-crisis positions and levels" and said the U.S. would not negotiate over Ukraine's future without the consent of the Ukrainian people.

“The U.S. will not discuss the future of Ukraine without the Ukrainian people,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

“There is no discussion of a constitutional change or a change in the nature of the relationships between various regions of Ukraine to the center without the participation — the full participation of the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian government,” he added.

Carney said that Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov would continue their talks on resolving the standoff over the Kremlin's annexation of Crimea, but said no date had been set for the next round of negotiations.

He stressed though that further progress depended on Russia’s willingness to pull back its military forces, which have been massed on the Ukrainian border, and sit down for talks with the interim government in Kiev.

Carney’s comments come after talks between Kerry and Lavrov on Sunday deadlocked. Kerry warned Russia against creating a climate of “intimidation” according to reports and declined to back Moscow’s calls for Ukraine to adopt a federal system, giving more power to different regions.

Russian forces seized Ukraine’s Crimean province and lawmakers in Moscow annexed the region despite warnings from the U.S. and allies.

Reports over the weekend said that Russian troops were massing on the Ukrainian border and the U.S. and European Union warned Moscow against any further military incursion.

Russia said the troops were there for military exercises, but the U.S. warned against efforts to pressure Kiev after Putin said that he would protect the interests of ethnic Russians in the region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called President Obama on Friday and expressed openness to a diplomatic resolution.

A Ukrainian defense official told Reuters on Monday that the number of Russian troops on the border had decreased, a welcome sign, but said it was too early to say if Moscow was pulling back.

Carney said there had been “reports of possible drawdowns of Russian troops,” but added that the White House had not been able to confirm those.

“We haven’t seen that yet,” said Carney. “But if they turn out to be accurate that would be a good thing.”

But critics warn that Russia is still tightening its grip on Crimea, with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visiting the newly annexed province on Monday.

Carney on Monday stressed that the U.S. was interested in resolving the standoff diplomatically, but would not sidestep the Ukrainian people.

In addition to drawing back troops, he called for a “direct dialogue” between Moscow and Kiev.

“That is a piece of what we and our European partners believe Russia needs to do to deescalate the situation,” he added.

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