WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to London to meet with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Friday to discuss proposals for resolving the Ukrainian crisis days before a referendum in Ukraine's Crimea region on joining Russia.
Kerry told lawmakers he was travelling at the request of President Barack Obama, who was meeting with Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk at the White House on Wednesday to explore ways to calm the tensions with Moscow.
Russia's bloodless seizure of the Crimea has brought U.S.-Russian relations to one of their lowest points since the Cold War, with no sign that tensions are easing.
"Our job is to try to present them with a series of options that are appropriate in order to try to respect the people of Ukraine, international law, and the interests of all concerned," Kerry told the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee on Foreign Operations on Wednesday.
"We will offer certain choices to Foreign Minister Lavrov and to President (Vladimir) Putin, through him, and to Russia, with hopes, and I think the hopes of the world, that we will be able to find a way forward that defuses this and ... finds a way to respect the integrity and sovereignty of the state of Ukraine," he added.
Kerry met with Lavrov twice in Europe last week. He gave the foreign minister a one-page paper laying out proposals for ending the standoff over Crimea, including the idea of a "contact group" bringing Russia, Ukraine and other countries together to forge a diplomatic solution.
U.S. officials said Lavrov was not authorized to make decisions and took the proposals back to Putin.
Crimeans voting in a referendum on Sunday are expected to back secession from Ukraine to join Russia, adding weight to calls for an international response.
Kerry told lawmakers that the United States recognized that Russia has long-standing interests in Crimea, where a small majority of people are ethnic Russians. But he said nothing justified Russia's takeover in the Black Sea peninsula.
"We need to approach this in ways that we get Russia to be able to respect the sovereignty of the country, the integrity of international law, the rights of Ukrainian people to make decisions for themselves even as Russian speakers and Russia's interests can be appropriately met," Kerry told lawmakers.
He declined to get into details about the administration's plans to impose sanctions on Moscow if a solution is not found. Washington has already prepared to the way to impose banking, business and other sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian officials.
"I don't want to go into all of the detail except to say ... it can get ugly fast if the wrong choices are made, and it can get ugly in multiple directions," he said. "So, our hope is that indeed there is a way to have a reasonable outcome, here."
The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote on Wednesday on legislation addressing the Ukraine crisis that contains sanctions and funding for Ukraine.
Kerry said it was not clear whether Russia will annex Crimea.
"They may well, but they may have the referendum, have the vote and not move in the Duma (legislature) to do the other things," he said.
"Or, you know, now I hear talk about the potential of secession as an alternative and so forth. That obviously, in our judgment, would be contrary to the constitution of Ukraine and an illegal act and I'm not sure that it would be recognized under those circumstances," he added.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Susan Heavey)