Ukraine crisis: John Kerry rejects Vladimir Putin talks
The US secretary of state has rejected an offer of talks with President Vladimir Putin until Russia engages with US proposals on Ukraine's crisis.
John Kerry told his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov that Moscow's military intervention in Crimea had made any negotiations extremely difficult.
US officials say there will be little to discuss if the referendum on whether Crimea should join Russia goes ahead.
Ukraine and the West say the vote, due to be held on Sunday, is illegal.
In other developments on Tuesday:
The next few days are going to be critical for any diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis, or at least one that comes any time soon. But it is not looking too hopeful.”
- At a news conference in Russia, ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych describes the new Ukrainian authorities as a "gang of fascists" and says presidential elections set for 25 May are "illegal"
- Ukrainian PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk tells MPs in Kiev that Crimea's authorities are an "organised gang" backed by Russia, and urges Moscow to settle the crisis diplomatically
- The parliament in Kiev asks the US and UK - as guarantors of the security pledges given to Ukraine in 1994 - to use all measures, including military, to stop Russia's "aggression"
- Crimea's lawmakers adopt an "independence declaration". The document says the region will ask to join Russia if this is approved at the referendum
- A number of flights from Crimea's main airport in Simferopol have been cancelled, amid reports that pro-Moscow militia have taken over air traffic control
- Officials from several countries are meeting in London to discuss sanctions against Russian officials
Russia said on Monday it was drafting counter-proposals to a US plan for a negotiated solution to the crisis.
Moscow has condemned Ukraine's new Western-backed government as an unacceptable "fait accompli" - it says that Russian-leaning parts of the country have been turned into havens of lawlessness.
Meanwhile Russian forces have strengthened their control over Crimea.
Pro-Russian troops are blockading Ukrainian troops across Crimea, which is an autonomous region.
Moscow has officially denied that its troops are taking part in the blockades, describing the armed men with no insignia as Crimea's "self-defence" forces.
Fact box: Awacs
- Airborne warning and control systems, or Awacs, are one of Nato's most sophisticated command and control aircraft
- Plane is a modified Boeing 707/320B airliner
- Contains a radar system that can detect, identify and track enemy aircraft, and direct fighters to meet them, from the ground up into the stratosphere
- Flight crew of four plus mission crew of 13-19
- Also used by the US, Britain and France
The government in Kiev - as well as the US and EU - accuse Russia of invading Ukraine, in violation of international law.
In a televised briefing with President Putin on Monday, Mr Lavrov said proposals made by Mr Kerry for a negotiated solution to the crisis were "not suitable" because they took "the situation created by the coup as a starting point", referring to the overthrow of Ukraine's pro-Russian President, Viktor Yanukovych.
Washington says that there has been no official response yet to a set of questions Mr Kerry gave Mr Lavrov at the weekend, asking in particular whether Moscow is prepared to meet officials from the new Ukrainian government.
"The United States needs to see concrete evidence that Russia is prepared to engage on the diplomatic proposals we have made to facilitate direct dialogue between Ukraine and Russia and to use international mechanisms like a contact group to deescalate the conflict," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a recent written statement.
"Kerry made clear to Foreign Minister Lavrov that he would welcome further discussions focused on how to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine if and when we see concrete evidence that Russia is prepared to engage on these proposals," she added.
Dozens of journalists travelled to the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, near the Ukrainian border, to find the answers to two questions: Was Viktor Yanukovych still alive, both in fact and as a politician?
Mr Yanukovych was supposed to hold a news conference. But when all the journalists were let into the conference hall, the organisers said that no questions should be asked. There would only be a statement.
Many of my colleagues were very disappointed. They even tried to shout their questions out when Mr Yanukovych was leaving.
The ousted Ukrainian president looked confident at first. But when he was quoting the words of the Ukrainian anthem his voice suddenly wavered. And so did his confidence, it seems.
Surprisingly, the man who used to rule Ukraine did not find the words to talk about the possible breakaway of one of his country's regions, Crimea.
She said "it was conceivable" that Mr Kerry might meet Mr Lavrov prior to the planned Crimean referendum but that the secretary of state first wanted to ensure that Moscow would engage seriously on US diplomatic proposals.Staff threatened
Meanwhile, Nato on Monday announced that it is to deploy Awacs reconnaissance planes in Poland and Romania to monitor the Ukrainian crisis.
Nato said the surveillance flights would "enhance the alliance's situational awareness".
Last week, the military alliance said it was reviewing all co-operation with Russia and stepping up its engagement with the government in Kiev.
Step-by-step, and meeting very little resistance, pro-Russian troops are dismantling Ukraine's ability to resist in Crimea, says the BBC's Christian Fraser, who is in the region.
President Putin has defended Crimea's decision to stage the referendum. "The steps taken by Crimea's legitimate authorities are based on international law," he said.
However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told him in a phone call that she considered the vote illegal.
Both EU leaders and the US have warned Moscow they would impose sanctions if Russian troops remained in Crimea.
Unrest in Ukraine erupted in November after former President Viktor Yanukovych's last-minute rejection of a landmark EU deal in favour of a bailout from Russia.
Mr Yanukovych was ousted last month, and a new government has been voted in by the Ukrainian parliament which Russia says was a "coup".