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Ukrainian city demands independence
02:11 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

President Barack Obama says diplomacy may de-escalate the situation

Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk says he is happy but cautious after talks

U.S. Secretary of State says Russia may face further costs if progress is not seen

Ukrainian, Russian and Western diplomats issue a joint statement for Ukraine

Donetsk, Ukraine CNN  — 

Diplomats meeting for emergency talks on the crisis in Ukraine issued a joint statement Thursday aimed at de-escalating the tensions and ensuring the security of all Ukrainians.

The statement – which appears to be the biggest step toward calming the situation in days – followed talks lasting several hours between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, his acting Ukrainian counterpart, Andriy Deshchytsia, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

The pact calls for all illegal armed groups to be disarmed, all illegally seized buildings to be returned to their legitimate owners and all occupied public spaces to be vacated. It promises amnesty for protesters who leave buildings and give up their weapons, apart from those convicted of capital crimes.

It also urges a halt to violence in Ukraine and condemns all extremism, racism and religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism, in the country.

Kerry, speaking alongside Ashton, said the sides had worked hard to narrow the differences between them.

But he stressed that the agreement was just words and that the proof of it would be in its swift implementation on the ground.

“What is important is that these words are translated into actions and none of us leave here with the sense that the job is done, because the words are on the paper,” he said. “The job will not be done until these principles are implemented and are followed up on.”

Kerry warned that Russia could face “further costs” if the situation does not de-escalate in line with the concrete steps set out in the statement. Ukraine’s leaders must also play their part in calming the situation, he said.

Asked about what NATO has said is a large Russian troop build-up near the border with Ukraine, Kerry said “our hope is” that Russia will withdraw more troops from the area as steps to de-escalate the Ukraine crisis are implemented.

Russia indicates that it has withdrawn one battalion from the area in response to the West’s calls for deescalation, Kerry said.

All sides have agreed to ask for monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has a mission in Ukraine, to help implement the measures.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed negotiations, while stressing that the situation in Ukraine remains “extremely volatile.”

Ban “expects all sides, moving forward, to show their serious intention to continue to engage, in a good-faith effort, and to implement the steps laid out in the Geneva Statement, which will contribute to a lasting solution to this crisis,” a U.N. statement read.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Thursday that he was happy but cautious after the Geneva talks.

Yatsenyuk said he was willing to grant more autonomy to eastern Ukraine in order to defuse tensions.

He took aim at Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, saying that Putin wants to restore the Russian empire and that a new Soviet Union would be a disaster for Europe.

Obama: U.S. military options not on the table

“I don’t think we can be sure of anything (in the Ukrainian crisis). I think there is the possibility, the prospect, that diplomacy may de-escalate the situation,” U.S. President Barack Obama said Thursday at the daily White House news conference when asked about the meeting in Geneva between top officials from the United States, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union.

He said referred to “a promising public statement” to disarm all groups that have been occupying buildings in eastern Ukraine, pointing out that the Russians have signed on to that statement. “We’re not going to know whether there is follow-through on these statements for several days,” Obama said.

The President stressed that he has emphasized to Putin that the United States will continue to uphold the basic principles of sovereignty of all countries.

“It is our belief … that Russia’s hand is in the disruptions and chaos that we’ve been seeing in southern and eastern Ukraine,” Obama said. “But there is an opportunity for Russia to take a different approach. We are encouraging them to do so. In the meantime, we’re going to prepare additional responses should Russia fail to take a different course.”

The President emphasized that he’s been very clear that U.S. military options are not on the table in dealing with the situation in Ukraine.

Lavrov: ‘Disgusting expressions’

Kerry said Ukraine’s interim leaders had made an impressive commitment toward listening to the demands of people in different regions of Ukraine, including the restive east, for increased autonomy and had promised constitutional reforms.

He said the agreement offered the best prospect for a positive way forward for Ukraine.

Lavrov, giving a separate news conference in Geneva, echoed the commitments of the joint statement, as well as stressing the need for Russian speakers in Ukraine to be protected from discrimination.

Speaking about the agreement to condemn extremism in Ukraine, Lavrov alleged that members of Ukraine’s Parliament had made “absolutely disgusting expressions” against those who speak Russian.

He urged a national dialogue in Ukraine, saying the process of constitutional reform must be transparent, inclusive and accountable – and that it was down to Ukrainians themselves to decide their future.

Russia has said it reserves the right to intervene in eastern Ukraine to protect ethnic Russians.

The four parties stressed the importance of Ukraine’s financial and economic stability, the statement added, “and would be ready to discuss additional support as the above steps are implemented.”

Military base attacked

The emergency talks in Geneva were called in the hope of resolving a deepening crisis that has seen armed pro-Russian protesters seize swaths of Ukraine.

The unrest in the east, which shares a border with Russia, has been spiraling so fast it has left diplomacy in the dust, amid the worst crisis in East-West relations since the end of the Cold War.