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Ukraine’s best hope now is for Crimea to declare autonomy but remain a part of the country.
Officials said Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is willing to give Crimea nearly unparalleled latitude in governing itself, while working to resolve concerns with Kiev over taxes and language differences. Officials in Kiev and the West also may have to settle for Crimea becoming a quasi-independent state like Trans-Dniester, a breakaway state from Moldova with strong Russian loyalties.
In Kiev, authorities made a last attempt to prevent Crimea from seceding. Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov annulled a recent Crimean parliamentary vote to immediately become an independent state were the region to break off from Ukraine.
Heightening the tensions, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement claiming it reserves the right to intervene in eastern Ukraine in defense of ethnic Russians who it claims are under threat.
The ministry said clashes overnight Thursday in the eastern city of Donetsk showed that Ukrainian authorities had lost control of the country and couldn’t provide basic security. The clashes broke out, however, when a hostile pro-Russian crowd confronted pro-government supporters. At least one person died and 29 were injured.
Ukraine responded by calling the Russian statement "impressive in its cynicism."
The Donetsk clashes had "a direct connection to deliberate, destructive actions of certain citizens of Russia and some Russian social organizations, representatives of which are present in our country to destabilize the situation and escalate tensions," Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Evgeny Perebiynis said, according to the Interfax news agency.
The U.N. assistant secretary-general for human rights, Ivan Simonovic, told reporters Friday in Kiev there was "no sign of human rights violations of such a proportion, of such widespread intensity that would require any military measures."
The U.S. State Department issued a travel alert Friday, advising Americans in Russia about "the ongoing tensions in Ukraine and the potential for increased public demonstrations and anti-American actions in Russia in connection with Russian actions in the Crimea." The alert also said Americans planning to travel to border regions with Ukraine "should be aware of the potential for escalation of tensions, military clashes (either accidental or intentional), or other violence, and the potential for threats to safety and security."
At his news conference, Kerry plaintively said room for negotiations still exists — but only if Russia respects Ukraine’s borders and sovereignty, and doesn’t wrest away Crimea. He said any attempts by Moscow to do otherwise would be "a decision of enormous consequence with respect to the global community."
"It would be against international law and, frankly, fly in the face of every legitimate effort to try to reach out to Russia and others to say there is a different way to protect the interests of Crimeans, to protect Russia’s interests and to respect the integrity of Ukraine and the sovereignty of Ukraine," Kerry said.
Lavrov flatly rejected any blame.
"The crisis," he said, "was not caused by Russia."
Peter Leonard and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, and Maria Danilova and Jim Heinz in Kiev contributed to this report.
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