LIVE BLOG: U.S., Russia Hold Talks on Ukraine Tensions

Russia drafts law to seize EU, U.S. assets in case of sanctions, rebuffs Western demands to withdraw forces; Kerry brings moral support and a $1 billion aid package to a Ukraine fighting to fend off bankruptcy.

News Agencies
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Members of a so-called Maidan self-defense unit carry a coffin containing the body of their friend on March 4, 2014.
Members of a so-called Maidan self-defense unit carry a coffin containing the body of their friend on March 4, 2014.Credit: AFP
News Agencies

Russia rebuffed Western demands to withdraw forces in Ukraine's Crimea region to their bases on Wednesday 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 euros in financial aid in the next couple of years provided Kiev reaches a deal with the International Monetary Fund. Germany, the EU's biggest economy, also promised bilateral financial help.

And the U.S. Defense Department, in an apparent attempt to signal resolve to Moscow, announced military measures to support eastern European NATO allies adjoining Russia and Ukraine.

Although nerves remained on edge in the Crimean Peninsula, with Russian troops firing warning shots to ward off Ukrainian soldiers, global markets jumped higher on tentative signals that the Kremlin was not seeking to escalate the conflict. Kerry brought moral support and a $1 billion aid package to a Ukraine fighting to fend off bankruptcy.


21:52 P.M. The United Nations special envoy to Ukraine, who was threatened by unknown gunmen earlier Wednesday, is to leave Crimea for Kiev, the UN said in a statement. "Robert Serry is taking a late flight out of Simferopol and will shortly return to Kiev to continue his mission, which was cut short by today's incident," the statement said.

19:57 P.M. A UN special envoy was forced to abandon a mission to Ukraine's Russian-occupied Crimea region after being stopped by armed men and besieged inside a cafe by a hostile crowd shouting "Russia! Russia!" A reporter for Britain's ITN television, James Mates, said the envoy, Dutch diplomat Robert Serry, had taken shelter in the cafe to escape the armed men who stopped him. He agreed to leave Crimea to end the stand-off. A Reuters photographer saw him being escorted by police through a crowd of about 100 angry demonstrators, some waving Russian flags, near the headquarters of a foreign observer mission.

"UN special envoy Robert Serry with me in coffee shop. Outside local militia block the door," Mates tweeted."He refused to go with men blocking car, got out and walked until he found coffee shop. He's asked ITV News team to stay with him," Mates said.

5:27 P.M. Pro-Russian crowd recaptures administration building in Ukraine's Donetsk

5:21 P.M. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says $1 billion loan guarantee package for Ukraine will move forward quickl, but should be offset by other savings.

5:14 P.M. The U.S. military, eying ways to support allies during the crisis in Ukraine, is stepping up joint training through an aviation detachment in Poland and boosting participation in a NATO air policing mission, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress on Wednesday.

Hagel said he aimed to speak with his Ukrainian counterpart on Wednesday and that the top U.S. military officer, General Martin Dempsey, had spoken with his Russian counterpart earlier in the day.

4:39 P.M.: French President Francois Hollande is holding a meeting of the U.S., Russian, British, French and German foreign ministers to discuss the Ukraine crisis, a presidential source told reporters at the Elysee presidential palace. The source said the meeting had already begun after the ministers, John Kerry, Sergei Lavrov, William Hague, Laurent Fabius and Frank-Walter Steinmeier appeared together at the palace.

4:09 P.M. U.S., Ukraine and British foreign ministers release joint statement after meeting in Paris, saying they agree that international observers should be deployed immediately in eastern Ukraine and Crimea. They also stated that direct talks between Ukraine and Russia, facilitated by the international community are crucial to resolving tensions with Russia.

3:47 P.M. President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that the crisis in Ukraine could have a negative effect on the Customs Union linking Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, and called for measures to protect the three nations' producers and exporters. "The extraordinary situation ... in Ukraine arouses serious concerns," Putin told the presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan at the start of talks at his residence outside Moscow.

"Negative consequences for the Customs Union markets are possible too, and therefore we should think together about measures to protect our producers and exporters," said Putin, whose hopes of bringing Ukraine into the union have been set back severely by the downfall of President Viktor Yanukovich.

2:04 P.M.: The EU will transfer some $15 billion to Ukraine over the next two years, according to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. Barroso said the aid will win include 1.6 billion euros in loans, and 1.4 billion euros in grants from the EU. It will also include some 3 billion euros in credit. He didn't give details on the timetable for the transfer of the funds to Kiev.

12:50 P.M.: A Ukrainian flag was raised Wednesday morning above the local government offices in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, the birth city of ousted President Yanukovych. A Russian flag had been on display on the building for five days. The police say that they are clearing the building, which pro-Russian protesters took over on Monday. This is despite reports that the building is booby-trapped and that explosives are hidden inside. Donetsk has seen the greatest number of pro-Russian protests since the president was ousted.

12:27 P.M.: Speaking before meeting Kerry and other foreign ministers in Paris, Lavrov repeated Moscow's assertion - ridiculed by the West - that the troops that have seized control of Crimea 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."

11:39 A.M.: Russian LGBT group, "Russian LGBT Network" published a post on its Facebook page condemning Russia and saying it had aggressively started a war. "No territorial interests, real or invented, justify the spilling of blood. We condemn the declarations and actions that incite war that is likely to bring human tragedies and human rights violations," the Facebook post said.

11:16 A.M.: 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.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet face-to-face for the first time since the crisis escalated. 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.

11:02 A.M. Haaretz correspondent Anshel Pfeffer reports that well-equipped, masked Russian soldiers remain stationed at strategic points in Crimea joined by local pro-Russian militias.

Meanwhile, the siege of the infantry base in Bakhchysarai continues: Russian forces armed with anti-tank missiles continue to patrol opposite the base's gates, while dozens of soldiers loyal to the government in Kiev are entrenched inside.

The Russians are allowing food inside the base, and despite Monday's ultimatum that an attack was imminent, Russian forces don't appear to be preparing for an offensive.

10:55 A.M. Ukraine raised its flag over the government headquarters in the eastern city of Donetsk, where a Russian flag had stood since Saturday, witnesses said. Police said they were evacuating the building, which has been occupied since Monday by pro-Russian demonstrators. A police statement said the evacuation began after reports that the building was booby-trapped with bombs.

10:00 A.M. Russian lawmakers are working on a draft law to allow the confiscation of property, assets and accounts of European or U.S. companies if sanctions are imposed on Russia over Ukraine, RIA news agency said on Wednesday.

RIA quoted Andrei Klishas, head of the constitutional legislation committee in the upper parliament house, as saying the bill "would offer the president and government opportunities to defend our sovereignty from threats".

He added that lawyers were examining whether the confiscation of foreign companies' assets, property and accounts would comply with the Russian constitution but said such steps would "clearly be in line with European standards".

9:30 A.M. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has told EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton an EU-brokered agreement signed on February 21 should be the basis for stabilising the situation in Ukraine, the ministry said on Wednesday.

He said the agreement foresaw constitutional reform which would take into account the wishes of all regions in Ukraine.

7:00 A.M. Australia has offered temporary refuge to visiting Ukrainian nationals due to soon return to their country.

2:00 A.M. President Barack Obama spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday about the situation in Ukraine and discussed a potential resolution to the crisis, a senior Obama administration official said.

The officials also said Obama would not attend a G8 summit scheduled for Sochi, Russia, in June unless there is a Russian reversal in the Ukraine crisis.

Obama has discussed with Putin what officials call an off-ramp for the Russians to the Ukraine crisis in which Russia would pull its forces in Crimea back to their bases and allow international monitors to ensure the rights of ethnic Russians are protected, the official said.

Obama also discussed with Merkel the potential solution, which would also involve the Russians engaging directly with the new government in Ukraine, the official said.

1:14 A.M. Chinese President Xi Jinping told Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that he believes Russia can push for a political settlement to the Ukraine crisis in coordination with other parties, China's foreign ministry said.

12:30 A.M. The White House called Russia's test launch on Tuesday of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile "routine" and said the United States was given advanced notification, as required under the New START treaty.

"This was a previously notified and routine test launch of an ICBM," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement, adding that "Russia and the United States routinely flight test their ICBMs and SLBMs (submarine-launched ballistic missiles)."

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