The United States and Russia will hold talks on easing East-West tension over Ukraine on Wednesday as the West steps up efforts to persuade Moscow to pull its forces back to base in Crimea and avert the risk of a war.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei
Lavrov will meet face-to-face for the first time since the crisis escalated,
after a conference in Paris attended by all five permanent members of the UN
NATO and Russia will hold parallel talks in Brussels
amid concerns that a standoff between Russian and Ukrainian soldiers in Crimea
could still spark violence, or that Moscow could also intervene in
Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius
said European Union leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday could decide on
sanctions against Russia if there is no "de-escalation" by
President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday defended Russia's actions in
Crimea, a strategic Black Sea peninsula that is part of Ukraine but used to be
Russian territory, and said he would use force only as a last
This eased market fears of a war over the former Soviet republic
after sharp falls on Monday. The ruble was steady on Wednesday and Ukraine's
hryvnia rose slightly against the U.S. dollar.
Russian forces remain in
control of the region, however, and Putin gave no sign of pulling servicemen,
based in Crimea as part of the Black Sea Fleet, back to base. Investors in
Russian stocks were still worried about Ukraine, with the MICEX index down 1
percent on Wednesday in contrast to other stock markets.
remain in control of the region and Putin gave no sign of pulling servicemen,
based in Crimea as part of the Black Sea Fleet, back to base.
wants above all is a new empire, like the USSR but called Russia," former
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko told France's Europe 1 radio.
Washington, US President Barack Obama acknowledged that Russia had legitimate
interests in Ukraine but said that did not give Putin the right to intervene
"President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers
making a different set of interpretations," Obama said. "But I don't think
that's fooling anybody."
A senior administration official said Obama
spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday and discussed a potential
resolution to the crisis. The Russian-speaking German leader has good relations
with the German-speaking Putin, and Berlin is Russia's biggest economic
The official said Obama, in his phone call with Putin last
Saturday, had discussed what officials called an "off-ramp" to the crisis in
which Russia would pull its forces in Crimea back to their bases and allow
international monitors to ensure that the rights of ethnic Russians are
The US president will stay away from a G8 summit scheduled for
Sochi, Russia, in June unless there is a Russian reversal in the Ukraine crisis,
the official added.
G7 MAY MEET SOON
At his first news conference
since the crisis began, Putin said on Tuesday that Russia reserved the right to
use all options to protect compatriots who were living in "terror" in Ukraine
but that force was not needed for now.
His comments, coupled with the end
of Russian war games near Ukraine's borders, lifted Russian bonds and stock
markets around the world after a panic sell-off on Monday.
ridiculed by US officials, Putin denied the Russian armed forces were directly
engaged in the bloodless seizure of Crimea, saying the uniformed troops without
national insignia were "local self-defense forces".
Francois Hollande became the latest Western leader to raise the possibility of
sanctions if Putin does not step back and accept mediation. He set out a tougher
public line than Merkel, who has avoided talk of sanctions so far.
role of France alongside Europe ... is to exert all necessary pressure,
including a possible imposition of sanctions, to push for dialogue and seek a
political solution to this crisis." Hollande told an annual dinner of France's
Jewish community leaders late on Tuesday.
Putin earlier said Western
sanctions under consideration against Russia would be counter-productive. A
senior US official said Washington was ready to impose them in days rather than
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said after speaking to
Obama at the weekend that the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations were
considering meeting in the near future, a move that would pointedly exclude
Russia. The G7 became the G8 in 1998 when Russia was formally
Kerry, on his first visit to Kiev since the overthrow of
Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovich, accused Moscow of seeking a pretext
to invade more of the country.
He said the United States was not seeking
a confrontation and would prefer to see the situation managed through
international institutions such as the Organisation for Security and Cooperation
in Europe (OSCE).
He was expected to meet Lavrov, Hollande and British
Foreign Secretary William Hague on the sidelines of a Paris conference on
Lebanon, before holding private talks with the Russian minister later in the day
in the French capital.
Ukraine's acting foreign minister, Andriy
Deshchitsia, is also in Paris for talks with French officials and Kerry. It was
not clear if he too would meet Lavrov.
The February 22 ousting of
Yanukovich after months of street protests in Kiev and Russia's seizure of
control in Crimea have prompted the most serious confrontation between Moscow
and the West since the end of the Cold War.
Western governments have been
alarmed at the possibility that Russia may also move into eastern and southern
Ukraine, home to many Russian speakers, which Putin did not rule
Lavrov told European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton
that an EU-brokered agreement signed by political leaders
in Kiev on
February 21 should be the basis for stabilizing the situation in Ukraine, his
ministry said on Wednesday.
He said the agreement foresaw constitutional
reform which would take into account the wishes of all regions in Ukraine.
Russia says the deal was broken by the removal of Yanukovich.
No major incidents were reported in Crimea overnight.
in a sign of the fragility of the situation, a Russian soldier on Tuesday fired
three volleys of shots over the heads of unarmed Ukrainian servicemen who
marched bearing the Ukrainian flag towards their aircraft at a military airfield
surrounded by Russian troops at Belbek, near Sevastopol.
After a standoff
in which the two commanders shouted at each other and Russian soldiers leveled
rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers at the Ukrainians, the incident
was defused and the Ukrainians eventually dispersed. No one was hurt.
Ukrainian border guard service said Russian navy ships had blocked both ends of
the Kerch Strait between Crimea and Russia, but Ukraine's infrastructure
ministry said the 4.5-km (2.7-mile) wide waterway was still open for civilian