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Ukraine, US Cajole, Threaten Russia    04/17 06:22

   GENEVA (AP) -- Ukraine is hoping to placate Russia and calm hostilities with 
its neighbor even as the U.S. prepares a new round of sanctions to punish 
Moscow for what it regards as fomenting unrest.

   The carrot-stick strategy emerged as diplomats from Ukraine, the U.S., the 
European Union and Russia prepared to meet Thursday for the first time over the 
burgeoning crisis that threatens to roil the new government in Kiev.

   It also comes as Russia hones a strategy of its own: Push the West as far as 
possible without provoking crippling sanctions against its financial and energy 
sectors or a military confrontation with NATO.

   "I think we still have a chance to de-escalate the situation using the 
diplomatic means," Ukraine's foreign minister, Andrii Deshchytsia, told 
reporters late Wednesday ahead of the talks. "And we are trying hard."

   However, Deshchytsia said the diplomatic discussions also must be tempered 
with efforts "to look for a more concrete and adequate response to Russia's 
plans and actions."

   Obama administration officials tamped down any expectations that the 
meetings in Geneva would yield a breakthrough or Russian concessions meaningful 
enough to avoid new U.S. penalties.

   U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry began his day with EU foreign policy 
chief Catherine Ashton. Asked if he was expecting to make any progress 
Thursday, Kerry shrugged. He also met individually with Deshchytisa and Russian 
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov before all four of the top diplomats sat down 
together.

   With Ukraine struggling to contain a pro-Russian uprising in its eastern 
region bordering Russia, the Obama administration is readying additional 
sanctions against Moscow and a boost in aid for the Ukrainian military in the 
coming days, U.S. officials said Wednesday. The sanctions likely will target 
more wealthy individuals close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the 
entities they run, while military aid could include medical supplies and 
clothing.

   "Each time Russia takes these kinds of steps that are designed to 
destabilize Ukraine and violate their sovereignty, there are going to be 
consequences," President Barack Obama said Wednesday in an interview with CBS 
News. "Mr. Putin's decisions aren't just bad for Ukraine. Over the long term, 
they're going to be bad for Russia."

   On Thursday, Putin denied claims that Russian special forces were fomenting 
unrest in eastern Ukraine. He called the Ukrainian government's effort to quash 
the uprising a "crime."

   The U.S. military aid was expected to stop short of body armor and other 
equipment for Ukraine's troops. Additionally, the Obama administration is 
reluctant to send weapons and ammunition, as Kiev has requested, amid fears 
that lethal supplies would be seen as an escalatory step by the U.S. and 
trigger a more aggressive response from the estimated 40,000 Russian forces 
massed on its border with Ukraine.

   Despite the diplomatic freeze between Moscow and Kiev, a senior State 
Department official said Ukraine's negotiators planned to try to assuage 
Russia's concerns during Thursday's talks. Deshchytsia and his team were 
expected to brief Russia and the other diplomats on what Kiev was doing to 
transfer more power from the central government to the regions, including 
letting local areas keep more of their funding and elect their own leaders.

   The Ukraine diplomats were prepared to field questions from negotiators and 
even seek Russia's advice on how to quell concerns in Moscow about the rights 
of Russian-speaking minorities in Ukraine and the approaching May 25 
presidential elections to ensure they are inclusive for all candidates.

   Ukraine's outreach during Thursday's talks would help test whether Russia 
was willing to respond to a diplomatic solution to the crisis, said the U.S. 
official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the issue by name and 
spoke on condition of anonymity.

   In Brussels, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the military alliance 
would increase its presence in Eastern Europe, including flying more sorties 
over the Baltic region west of Ukraine and deploying allied warships to the 
Baltic Sea and the eastern Mediterranean. NATO's supreme commander in Europe, 
U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, told reporters that ground forces also 
could be involved at some point, but gave no details.

   So far, the military movements and two initial rounds of sanctions against 
Russians and Ukrainians accused by the West of stirring up the unrest have done 
little to ease tensions.

   Ukraine's military launched its first actions against the pro-Russian forces 
on Tuesday. A day later, in the eastern Ukraine city of Slovyansk, pro-Russian 
insurgents took over six Ukrainian armored vehicles along with their crews and 
hoisted Russian flags over them before driving into town. The Ukrainian 
soldiers manning the vehicles offered no armed resistance, and masked 
pro-Russian militias in combat fatigues rode on top of the vehicles in a 
defiant rejection of Kiev's hope to re-establish control over the restive 
region.

   Insurgents in Slovyansk have seized the police headquarters and the 
administration building, demanding broader autonomy for eastern Ukraine and 
closer ties with Russia. Their actions have been repeated in at least eight 
other cities in eastern Ukraine. The central government says Moscow is 
provoking the unrest.

   On Thursday, Ukraine's interior minister said three pro-Russian militants 
died and 13 were wounded when Ukrainian troops repelled an attack on a National 
Guard base in the Black Sea port of Mariupol.

   Officials said a full-scale Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine would result 
in broad U.S. and European sanctions on key Russian economic sectors, including 
its powerful energy industry. However, European nations are divided on whether 
to limit its access to Russia's oil and gas supplies, and a vote to sanction 
must be unanimous among the EU's 28 member states.

   The sanctions that could be levied in the aftermath of the Geneva meeting 
were expected to focus on Putin's close associates, including oligarchs who 
control much of Russia's wealth, as well as businesses and other entities they 
control. It was unclear whether those sanctions would change Putin's calculus, 
given that the U.S. and the Europeans already have launched targeted sanctions 
on people in Putin's inner circle.


(KA)


 
 
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