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Nation/World

March 4, 2014

Russia sets Ukraine agenda with diplomacy, threats

KIEV, Ukraine — Russia called for a national unity deal in Ukraine even as it tightened its stranglehold over Crimea, a bold combination of diplomacy and escalating military pressure. The U.S. and European Union floundered for solutions — while global markets panicked over the prospect of violent upheaval in the heart of Europe.

Fears grew in the Ukrainian capital and beyond that the Kremlin might carry out more land grabs in pro-Russian eastern Ukraine, adding urgency to Western efforts to defuse the crisis. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was heading to Kiev in an expression of support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, and the EU threatened a raft of punitive measures as it called an emergency summit on Ukraine for Thursday.

But it was Russia that appeared to be driving the agenda.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a U.N. Human Rights Council session in Geneva that Ukraine should return to an agreement signed last month by pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych — but not Moscow — to hold early elections and surrender some powers. Yanukovych fled the country after sealing the pact with the opposition and foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland.

“Instead of a promised national unity government,” Lavrov said, “a government of the victors has been created.”

Meanwhile, Ukrainian authorities said that Russian troops had issued an ultimatum for two Ukrainian warships to surrender or be seized — prompting the country’s acting president to accuse Russia of “piracy.”

Ukraine’s corvette Ternopil and the command ship Slavutych were being blocked by four Russian navy ships in Sevastopol’s harbor, a Ukrainian military spokesman said. Acting president Oleksandr Turchynov said commanders and crew were “ready to defend their ships. ... They are defending Ukraine.”

Vladimir Anikin, a Russian defense ministry spokesman, dismissed the report of a Russian ultimatum as nonsense but refused to elaborate.

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