Sergei Lavrov. Photo by Reuters
Russia has rebuffed Western demands to withdraw forces in
Ukraine's Crimea region to their bases amid a day of
high-stakes diplomacy in Paris aimed at easing tensions over
Ukraine and averting the risk of war.
The European Union offered Ukraine's new pro-Western
government €11 billion in financial aid in the next couple of
years provided Kiev reaches a deal with the International
Germany, the EU's biggest economy, also promised bilateral
Ukraine's new finance minister, Oleksander Shlapak, caused a
fall in the Ukrainian bond and currency markets by saying his
economically shattered country may start talks with creditors
on restructuring its foreign currency debt.
And the U.S. Defence Department, in an apparent attempt to
signal resolve to Moscow, announced military measures to
support eastern European NATO allies adjoining Russia and
Russia and the West are locked in the most serious battle
since the end of the Cold War for influence in Ukraine, a
former Soviet republic with historic ties to Moscow that is a
major commodities exporter and strategic link between East
Ukraine pulled out of a trade deal with the EU under Russian
pressure last year, sparking months of protests in Kiev and
the February 22 ouster of President Viktor Yanukovich, a
Ukraine says Russia has occupied Crimea, where its Black Sea
fleet is based, provoking an international outcry and sharp
falls in financial markets on Monday, though they have since
The foreign ministers of Russia, the United States, Britain,
and Germany met their French counterpart and French President
Francois Hollande in Paris to try to start a diplomatic
process to defuse the crisis.
But diplomats said it was not clear whether Russian Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov would take the crucial step of
attending talks with Ukraine's new foreign minister, a member
of a government Moscow has described as illegitimate.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry left the meeting at
Hollande's office without making any statement.
Earlier, Lavrov repeated Moscow's assertion - ridiculed by
the West - that the troops that have seized control of the
Black Sea peninsula are not under Russian command.
Asked whether Moscow would order forces in Crimea back to
their bases, Lavrov told a questioner in Madrid: "If you mean
the self-defence units created by the inhabitants of Crimea,
we give them no orders, they take no orders from us.
"As for the military personnel of the Black Sea Fleet, they
are in their deployment sites. Yes, additional vigilance
measures were taken to safeguard the sites ... We will do
everything not to allow any bloodshed."
Russia did not attend a meeting with Kerry, British Foreign
Secretary William Hague and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy
Deshchytsia of the so-called Budapest group created to assure
Ukraine's security after it abandoned nuclear weapons in
But Kerry and Hague said they would try to bring the Russian
and Ukrainian ministers together later in the day.
Poland's foreign minister tweeted that he would attend a
meeting in Paris with those two ministers plus the United
States, Germany, Britain, France and the Organisation for
Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
But there was no confirmation that all sides would attend the
session, which could be the first step in a diplomatic
Lavrov was later due to hold the first face-to-face talks
with his U.S. counterpart since the crisis escalated, on the
sidelines of a conference on Lebanon attended by the five
permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
NATO and Russia were also set to hold talks in Brussels amid
concerns that a standoff between Russian and Ukrainian forces
in Crimea could still spark violence, or that Moscow could
also intervene in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.
In a sign of heightened tensions in the east, a pro-Russian
crowd in Donetsk, Yanukovich's hometown, recaptured a
regional administration building they had occupied before
being ejected by police, a Reuters witness said.
The West is pushing for Russia to return troops to barracks,
accept international monitors in Crimea and Ukraine and
negotiate a solution to the crisis through a "contact group"
probably under the auspices of a pan-European security body.
France said European Union leaders meeting in Brussels on
Thursday could decide on sanctions against Russia if there is
no "de-escalation" by then. Other EU countries, including
Germany, are more reticent about sanctions.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said early measures
could include restrictions on visas, the assets of
individuals and existing discussions on economic ties with
President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday defended Russia's actions
in Crimea, which used to be Russian territory, and said he
would use force only as a last resort.
This eased market fears of a war over the former Soviet
republic after sharp falls on Monday, though Russian shares
and the rouble slipped again on Wednesday, and Ukraine's
hryvnia dropped against the dollar.
Russian forces remain in control of Crimea, where Interfax
reported they seized control of two Ukrainian missile defence
sites overnight, and Putin gave no sign of backing down.
"What he wants above all is a new empire, like the USSR but
called Russia," former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko
told France's Europe 1 radio.
In Brussels, European Commission President Jose Manuel
Barroso said the EU would deliver assistance to Kiev in
coordination with the European Bank for Reconstruction and
Development and the European Investment Bank.
Some of it would be contingent on Ukraine signing an IMF loan
deal, which will require painful economic reforms such as
ending domestic gas subsidies and letting the hryvnia float.
"The package combined could bring an overall support of at
least 11 billion euros over the next couple of years, from
the EU budget and EU-based international financial
institutions," Barroso told a news conference. The United
States offered Ukraine $1 billion in loan guarantees on
A senior U.S. official said President Barack Obama spoke to
German Chancellor Angela Merkel 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 partner.
In a phone call with Putin last Saturday, Obama discussed an
"off-ramp" to the crisis whereby Russia would pull its forces
in Crimea back to their bases and allow international
monitors to ensure that the rights of ethnic Russians are
Failing that, the U.S. official said Washington was ready to
impose sanctions in days rather than weeks.
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.
He told his cabinet on Wednesday he did not want political
tension to detract from economic cooperation with Russia's
"traditional partners". But the foreign ministry said Moscow
was preparing counter-measures against Western firms if
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said after speaking to
Obama that the Group of Seven leading industrialised nations
were considering meeting in the near future, a move that
would exclude Russia, which joined what became the G8 in
Lavrov told European Union foreign policy chief Catherine
Ashton that an EU-brokered agreement signed by political
leaders in Kiev on Feb. 21 should be the basis for
stabilising the situation in Ukraine, his ministry said on
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.
In Washington, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress
the U.S. military was stepping up joint training through an
aviation detachment in Poland and boosting participation in a
NATO air policing mission over the Baltic states, Estonia,
Latvia and Lithuania - the only former Soviet republics that
are members of the Western alliance.