Wednesday, March 05, 2014

E.U. To Offer Aid To Ukraine As Russia And U.S. Set To Meet

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- A top European Union official said Wednesday that the group is prepared to offer an aid package to Ukraine worth as much as $15 billion over the next two years.

José Manuel Barroso

José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, the union’s executive arm, said Wednesday that the offer includes 1.6 billion euros, or about $2.2 billion, in loans and €1.4 billion euros in grants from the union, as well as €3 billion in fresh credit from the European Investment Bank.

The aid will buttress the $1 billion in loan guarantees that Secretary of State John Kerry pledged to Ukraine while visiting Kiev on Tuesday.

The economic lifeline is expected to help Ukraine’s embattled interim government amid spiraling debts and the threat of rising Russian gas prices.

The funds will also help cushion the blow as the International Monetary Fund is expected to demand tough austerity measures as a condition of its own expected aid package.

Mr. Barroso didn’t immediately provide details over the timing and conditions of the loans.

The interim government in Ukraine has said that it will need $35 billion in international assistance over the next two years.

The top diplomats of Russia and the United States are scheduled to meet later on Wednesday in Paris, with both sides sticking to their positions over the new government in Ukraine and the effective Russian occupation of Crimea.

The Russians regard the government in Kiev as illegitimate, while the Americans have embraced it; the Russians defend their actions in Crimea as a response to a request for aid from local citizens and from the ousted president Viktor F. Yanukovych.

The Russians say that Mr. Yanukovych, for all his faults, remains the legitimate president of Ukraine.

With more diplomatic wrangling in the cards, the Americans are pressing for international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which Russia is a member, to go to Crimea.

The idea is to investigate whether threats to Russian-speaking citizens there are significant and to provide a reason for Russian troops to return to their barracks.

But there is no indication that Russia has any intention of releasing its grip on Crimea, the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and a key southern port for the Russian military.

In Crimea, Russian troops, still in uniforms without insignia, continue to surround all key Ukrainian military facilities.

Most of the Ukrainians have resisted calls to hand over their weapons and leave their bases, where they are effectively imprisoned.

There were reports on Wednesday that Russian troops had seized part of a Ukrainian missile defense unit in Yevpatoria, on the western coast of Crimea, but a local spokesman for Ukraine’s Defense Ministry told news agencies that the command post and control center of the base remain under Ukrainian control.

In the north of the Crimean Peninsula on the isthmus near the Ukrainian mainland, northwest of Armyansk, Russian troops with 10 large trucks have set up a roadblock and are checking documents and cars.

Two Russian flags fly over the roadblock and journalists are being told to keep away. 

In Kiev, the Ukrainian prime minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, said that Russia’s deployment of forces is having an “extremely negative” impact on the country’s already shaky economy.

“The Russian aggression on Ukraine’s territory is having political and economic consequences,” he said in remarks broadcast on television at the start of a government meeting.

“The presence of the Russian military on Ukraine’s territory is having an extremely negative effect on Ukraine’s economy.”

The government is holding talks with a team of analysts from the International Monetary Fund to determine the real state of the country’s finances and to discuss an emergency stabilization package.

Ukrainian television stations are all displaying the Ukrainian flag in the corner of the screen, with the words, “United Ukraine” in both the Ukrainian and Russian languages.

In Donetsk, in the east of the country, where Russian speakers predominate, police officers citing a bomb threat evicted hundreds of pro-Russian protesters from a regional parliament building, returning it to Ukrainian police control for the first time since it was seized on Monday.

Shortly after the protesters were evicted from the building, the Ukrainian flag was restored to the building’s flagstaff and a Russian flag that had flown there since the building’s seizure was removed.

A police official denied that officers had removed the flag, saying that the police “stay out of politics,” and adding that officers had found an antipersonnel mine in the building but did not know who had put it there.

The eviction came as Sergey Taruta, a billionaire businessman from the region who was recently appointed as the new governor, arrived in Donetsk Tuesday evening, and appeared to signal that the police and the local government had begun to actively resist pro-Russian activists calling for Donetsk to secede from Ukraine.

Pavel Gubarev, the leader of the People’s Militia of Donbass, a separatist group, called the police action “a provocation” and said, “there was never any bomb.”

He has called for the Donbass region to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.

A police official said that a criminal case against Mr. Gubarev was being investigated.

“Pavel Gubarev will answer before the law,” the official said.

Donetsk is one of several cities in eastern Ukraine that saw pro-Russian protests erupt on Saturday.

Demonstrators led by Mr. Gubarev, who declared himself “people’s governor,” have been ensconced in the regional administration building, demanding that relations with Kiev be severed and that control over the police and security forces be placed in their hands.

In Paris, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, did not attend a meeting on Ukraine’s security called by signatories to the Budapest Memorandum, a treaty that was signed after Ukraine agreed in 1994 to give up the nuclear weapons it inherited from the Soviet Union.

The accord, formed by the United States, United Kingdom and Russia, was designed to provide Ukraine a kind of security guarantee.

Mr. Lavrov was expected to arrive in Paris from Madrid later to attend a meeting on Lebanon, where he is scheduled to meet Mr. Kerry.

In Madrid, Mr. Lavrov insisted that “self-defense forces” in Crimea were not under Russia’s control.

The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said that European Union leaders holding a crisis meeting on Ukraine on Thursday could impose sanctions on Russia if there was no “de-escalation” by then, echoing earlier comments on Tuesday by the Polish foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski.

Mr. Fabius told French television that measures could include restrictions on visas, on the assets of individuals and a review of existing discussions on economic ties with Russia.

“Let’s start to initiate the path of dialogue, but at the same time, tomorrow there is an E.U. summit and sanctions could be voted tomorrow if there is no de-escalation. I expect and hope that Russia will today tell us that there is a prospect for dialogue with a contact group,” Mr. Fabius said, referring to proposals to form a grouping of key players in the Ukraine crisis.

Germany has been pressing for dialogue, both directly with Russia and through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Mr. Fabius said that France had jointly elaborated a “crisis exit” plan with Germany.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has been more reticent than French officials to publicly raise the threat of sanctions on Russia.

Source: The New York Times

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