MOSCOW — Even as Russia and Ukraine signaled a willingness to seek a diplomatic resolution to the widening crisis over Crimea on Saturday, new tensions roiled on the disputed peninsula, and Russia raised the possibility of suspending inspections required under arms-control treaties because of stepped-up operations by NATO.
“We are ready to continue a dialogue on the understanding that a dialogue should be honest and partner-like, without attempts to portray us as one of the parties in the conflict,” Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said during an appearance with his counterpart from Tajikistan.
Hours after he spoke, however, an unidentified military official told Russian news agencies that Russia was considering suspending inspections of its nuclear arsenal required by the strategic arms reduction treaties, as well as other military cooperation agreements meant to build confidence and avoid international confrontations.
The official said the move was justified by “baseless threats” against Russia by the United States and NATO. A suspension of the inspections would undermine a pillar of international security and expand the confrontation beyond Ukraine itself.
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Although President Obama has made it clear that the United States does not want to escalate the Crimean crisis, the Pentagon stepped up training operations in Poland and sent fighter jets to patrol the skies over Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, three former Soviet republics that, like Ukraine, have sizable ethnic Russian populations.
In Kiev, Ukraine’s new foreign minister, Andrii Deshchytsia, said that some small progress had been made to form a “contact group” of foreign diplomats to mediate the country’s confrontation with Russia after the occupation of Crimea by Russian soldiers and local “self-defense” groups more than a week ago.
Crimea’s regional assembly voted Thursday to secede from Ukraine and apply to join the Russian Federation, and scheduled a referendum for March 16 to ratify its decision, significantly escalating the crisis between Russia and the West.
Ukraine, along with the United States and Europe, declared the referendum unconstitutional and made clear it would not recognize the Crimean vote, though the prospect of Crimea joining Russia received an overwhelmingly positive reaction from Russian lawmakers Friday.
“We have a certain small progress and some hope that we will manage this in a peaceful way,” Deshchytsia said in Kiev. “We need to create some negotiating mechanism” with Russia.
The diplomacy is likely to be complicated, however, because Russian officials have refused to recognize Ukraine’s new political leaders.