Russia preparing counterproposals over Ukraine

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Two girls wearing tops with a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin hold baloons in colors of Russian national flag stand in front of patriotic demonstrators gathered to support Russians in Crimea in Moscow, Russia, Monday, March 10, 2014. In Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula a referendum has been called to see whether the region should split off and seek to become part of Russia is expected to held on Sunday . (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Two girls wearing tops with a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin hold baloons in colors of Russian national flag stand in front of patriotic demonstrators gathered to support Russians in Crimea in Moscow, Russia, Monday, March 10, 2014. In Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula a referendum has been called to see whether the region should split off and seek to become part of Russia is expected to held on Sunday . (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left listens to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, during their meeting at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi, southern Russia, Monday, March 10, 2014. Russia’s foreign ministry is denouncing alleged lawlessness by far-right activists in eastern Ukraine.In the Monday statement, the ministry said lawlessness “now rules in eastern regions of Ukraine as a result of the actions of fighters of the so-called ‘right sector’ with the full connivance” of Ukraine’s new authorities. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service)

A woman holds a Russian flag with the word reading Crimea as about 1,000 demonstrators gathered to support Russians in Crimea in Moscow, Russia, Monday, March 10, 2014. Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, where a referendum has been called for Sunday on whether the region should split off and seek to become part of Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Former imprisoned Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky speaks to journalists during a roundtable at a hotel in Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, March 10, 2014. Russia’s most famous prisoner said in a lecture to students at Kiev Polytechnic University on Monday that Russia is ruining its longstanding friendship with Ukraine by its aggressive and pro-separatist actions in Crimea. (AP Photo/David Azia)

Crimean Tatars shout slogans and hold Tatar flag during the pro Ukraine rally in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine, Monday, March 10, 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday defended the separatist drive in the disputed Crimean Peninsula as in keeping with international law, but Ukraine’s prime minister vowed not to relinquish “a single centimeter” of his country’s territory. The local parliament in Crimea has scheduled a referendum for next Sunday. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

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KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia said Monday it is drafting counterproposals to a U.S. plan for a negotiated solution to the Ukraine crisis, denouncing the new Western-backed government as an unacceptable “fait accompli” and claiming that Russian-leaning parts of the country have been plunged into lawlessness.

The Kremlin moves came as Russian forces strengthened their control over Crimea, less than a week before the strategic region is to hold a contentious referendum on whether to split off and become part of Russia.

In a televised briefing with President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s foreign minister said proposals made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are “not suitable” because they take “the situation created by the coup as a starting point,” referring to the ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin president, Viktor Yanukovych.

Referring to a document Lavrov received from Kerry explaining the U.S. view of the situation in Ukraine, Lavrov said: “To be frank, it raises many questions on our side.”

“Everything was stated in terms of allegedly having a conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and in terms of accepting the fait accompli,” he said.

Lavrov said Kerry delayed a visit to Moscow to discuss the situation, and Russia had decided to prepare new proposals of its own, though he did not say what they were.

“We suggested that he come today … and we were prepared to receive him. He gave his preliminary consent. He then called me on Saturday and said he would like to postpone it for a while,” the minister said.

But in Washington, State Department officials said that it was Russia’s refusal to discuss the American proposals that was hurting prospects for a negotiated solution — in particular, the idea of direct talks between Russian officials and those of the new Ukrainian government.

“We are still awaiting a Russian response to the concrete questions that Secretary Kerry sent Foreign Minister Lavrov on Saturday in this regard,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

“Secretary 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 said.

The statement said Kerry, in weekend discussions with Lavrov, reiterated Washington’s demand that Moscow pull back its troops from Ukraine and end attempts to annex the Crimean peninsula. Kerry also called on Russia to cease what the statement described as “provocative steps” to allow diplomatic talks to continue.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s foreign minister said Monday that his country was practically in a state of war with Russia, whose forces have effectively taken control over the Crimean Peninsula in what has become Europe’s greatest geopolitical crisis since the end of the Cold War.

“We have to admit that our life now is almost like … a war,” Foreign Minister Andrii Deshchytsya said before meeting his counterparts from Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. “We have to cope with an aggression that we do not understand.”

Deshchytsya said Ukraine is counting on help from the West. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is to meet with President Barack Obama in Washington on Wednesday.

On Monday, the Russian Foreign Ministry denounced the lawlessness it said “now rules in eastern regions of Ukraine as a result of the actions of fighters of the so-called ‘Right Sector,’ with the full connivance” of Ukraine’s new authorities.

Right Sector is a grouping of far-right and nationalist factions

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