WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Russia's responses to U.S. proposals to end the crisis in Ukraine do not create the environment for a diplomatic resolution, the United States said on Tuesday.
Russia's bloodless seizure of the Crimea region of Ukraine has brought U.S.-Russian relations to one of their lowest points since the Cold War, with the United States searching for a way to keep Russia from annexing Crimea and its Russian naval base.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday morning to discuss a series of questions that Washington put to Moscow over the weekend in an effort to find a diplomatic solution, the State Department said.
"He (Kerry) also reiterated his willingness to continue to engage with Foreign Minister Lavrov, including this week, but that the environment has to be right and the goal must be to protect the immunity and sovereignty of Ukraine and we didn't see that, obviously, in the responses that we received back," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
Psaki said Russia gave its response to the questions on Monday, when the State Department held out the possibility that Kerry might travel to Russia this week but said it needed to know whether Moscow would engage in a diplomatic solution.
While the spokeswoman said Kerry was still open to going to Russia before Sunday's planned referendum in Crimea on whether to join Russia - a poll the United States sees as illegitimate - her comments suggested such a trip was now unlikely.
Kerry told Lavrov "any further escalatory steps will make the window for diplomacy more difficult," Psaki said, adding that he also said "it is unacceptable that Russian forces and irregulars continue to take matters into their own hands."
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Tom Brown)