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Russia, West try to hammer out Ukraine diplomacy

By Maria Danilova

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, March 5 2014 4:15 p.m. MST

NATO tried to apply pressure on Moscow in its own talks with Russia in Brussels.

The Western alliance's secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said that ambassadors for the alliances 28 member states decided after a meeting with their Russian counterpart to suspend plans for a joint mission as well as all civilian and military meetings.

Rasmussen said because of Russia's military action in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, "the entire range of NATO-Russia cooperation (is) under review." Rasmussen said the alliance will continue to meet with Moscow at the political level but insisted that halting all other cooperation "sends a very clear message to Russia."

One key piece of leverage that the West has over nearly bankrupt Ukraine: hard cash. The three months of protests that triggered Ukraine's crisis erupted when Yanukovych accepted $15 billion in aid from Putin in exchange for dropping an economic partnership deal with the EU. On Wednesday, the EU matched the aid — which the Russians withdrew after Yanukovych's downfall — and the U.S. topped that up with an additional $1 billion.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's former prime minister — the heroine of Ukraine's 2004-2005 Orange Revolution and Yanukovych's arch-enemy — called on the West to force Russia to withdraw troops from Crimea.

Yulia Tymoshenko, who was released from prison two weeks ago, said that any negotiations about Ukraine's future should be conducted directly between the United States, the European Union and Russia — and insisted no compromises should be made to appease Moscow.

"We believe that the aggressor must leave without any conditions," Tymoshenko told the AP in an interview.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said a key demand was for Russia's military to pull back to its Black Sea bases to show a tangible de-escalation, but he did not press for a Thursday deadline as European diplomats initially had. EU talks about possible sanctions against Russia were scheduled Thursday in Brussels.

The EU on Wednesday also froze the assets of 18 people held responsible for misappropriating state funds in Ukraine, echoing similar action in Switzerland and Austria. The list, which likely targets officials in the ousted government or businessmen related to them, was withheld until Thursday to prevent anyone from withdrawing the funds at the last minute.

Russia has suggested that it will meet any sanctions imposed by Western governments with a tough response, and Putin has warned that those measures could incur serious "mutual damage."

In Crimea, U.N. special envoy Robert Serry was threatened by 10 to 15 armed men as he was leaving naval headquarters in Crimea, said U.N. deputy secretary-general Jan Eliasson. When the men ordered Serry to go to the airport, Serry refused — but then found himself trapped because his car was blocked, Eliasson said.

The Dutch envoy was later spotted by reporters in a coffee shop, as men in camouflage outfits stood outside. He got into a van with the men, and was taken to Simferopol airport.

Later, an AP reporter found Serry in the business class lounge of the Simferopol airport.

"I'm safe. My visit was interrupted for reasons that I cannot understand," the Dutch diplomat said in a statement to AP. He said nothing more.

The Obama administration took steps Wednesday to support the defenses of U.S. allies in Europe in response to Russia's takeover of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the U.S. was stepping up joint aviation training with Polish forces. The Pentagon also is increasing American participation in NATO's air policing mission in its Baltic countries, he said.

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