Speaking from Winfield House, the American ambassador's residence in London, Kerry and Lavrov noted there was much to be discussed and expressed appreciation for the opportunity to meet.
"I look forward to the opportunity to dig into the issues and possibilities that we may be able to find about how to move forward together to resolve some of the difference between us," Kerry said.
Lavrov, speaking through an interpreter, acknowledged, "This is a difficult situation we are in. Many events have happened and a lot of time has been lost, so now we have to think what can be done."
Friday's face-to-face meeting was arranged by Kerry, said an unnamed senior State Department official. Kerry proposed the meeting after the State Department received a written statement containing "pretty specious legal argumentation" from the Russian government in defense of the Russian military intervention into Ukraine's Crimea region and public support for what the U.S., G7, and Ukraine consider an "illegal" referendum called by the Crimean parliament to determine whether Crimea remains part of Ukraine or secedes to join Russia. The referendum is scheduled to take place on Sunday.
According to the senior official, Kerry told Lavrov on Tuesday, "Look, we haven't made any progress here, but I'm willing to come and try and talk with you, but you need to get some flexibility. And by the way, we have Prime Minister Yatsenyuk of Ukraine coming for the President's invitation on Wednesday. They've been saying the right things about being willing to offer a lot of autonomy, being willing to offer a lot of international support to protect minorities and human rights, et cetera. We’re going to explore that with Yansenyuk and we’ll see how that might be articulated and detailed. So why don’t we think about trying to meet at the end of the week."
With the controversial Crimean referendum days away, Kerry wants "to hear from Foreign Minister Lavrov how Russia sees this as it bears down," said the official.
Kerry will also be addressing other issues associated with opportunities for Russia to de-escalate the conflict with Ukraine, including the withdrawal of Russian forces to their barracks, the emplacement of international observers in Crimea, and a commitment from Russia to respect the sovereign territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Russia, however, continues to escalate tensions. On Thursday, Russia undertook additional military exercises near the border with Ukraine.
"We're very concerned," the official responded when asked whether the State Department views recent Russian military exercises as a political gesture or intent to invade. "This is the second time inside of a month that Russia has chosen to mass large amounts of force on short notice without much transparency around the eastern borders of Ukraine. It certainly creates an environment of intimidation, it certainly is destabilizing," and Kerry will address this issue with Lavrov to determine "what is meant by this."