President Barack Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel have spoken for around an hour about possible solutions to the Crimean standoff. Merkel's foreign minister has said he sees a "small chance" of a political solution.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier sought a slightly more upbeat tone on the situation in Crimea on Wednesday, saying he believed that tensions between Moscow and Kyiv could still be calmed if the international community moved with haste.
"There is now a small chance to get an international political process into motion that would be able to stop the spiral of escalation between Russia and Ukraine in the Crimea," Steinmeier told Wednesday's edition of the Rheinische Post daily, before cautioning: "Time is running out. There is a threat of nothing less than a division of Europe. The longer this crisis brews, the more difficult any solution will become."
Various international attempts to monitor and calm the Crimean situation are already in motion. UN special envoy Robert Serry arrived in the southern Ukrainian region on Tuesday, while an unarmed military observer task force is being deployed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Wednesday's edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that two Bundeswehr soldiers would join this OSCE team.
Designing an 'off-ramp'
Leaders of the European Union member states will convene for a special summit on Thursday, called this week in response to the situation in Ukraine. Prior to these talks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel conducted a lengthy phone call with US President Barack Obama on Tuesday evening, discussing "the still-worrying situation in Ukraine," as Merkel's spokesman put it.
A senior White House official said that Obama and Merkel discussed an "off-ramp" for Russia in Ukraine. A statement said that the two leaders "agreed on the importance of de-escalating the situation, including through the deployment of international observers and human rights monitors, and of initiating direct talks between Russia and Ukraine."
In a public appearance at a fundraiser on Tuesday night, Obama similarly voiced cautious optimism for an international solution, saying "we are spending a lot of time on it."
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday disputed allegations from Ukraine that Russian troops were directly involved in the bloodless seizure of control in Crimea, saying that "local forces of self-defense" had surrounded military bases and some local government buildings. One of the proposals Merkel and Obama discussed was capping the number of Russian troops in Crimea at 11,000 and confining them to military facilities, in line with existing bilateral agreements.
Kerry's Maidan message
US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Kyiv on Tuesday, sharply criticizing Russian conduct in the Crimea, and describing it as "not 21st-century, G8, major nation behavior." Russia currently chairs the G8, and the US has already said it will not attend the group's June summit in Sochi unless the situation in Ukraine changes.
Kerry's visit also coincided with a US government pledge of $1 billion (726 million euros) in aid to fund energy purchases; Ukraine is heavily dependent on Russian gas deliveries. The economics minister for the interim government in Ukraine, Pavlo Sheremeta, told DW afterwards that Kyiv was appreciative of Kerry's "timely" visit.
"He brought appropriate words for the country which is torn… wounded at the moment," Sheremeta said on DW TV's Journal. "He paid his respects to the victims of the Maidan, which was well appreciated here."
msh/dr (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)