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Western Diplomats Visit Kiev, Bringing Few Answers With Them


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish. We begin this hour in Ukraine where Russian troops took control of more areas in Crimea today, including a ferry terminal between the Ukrainian peninsula and Russia. Western countries are strategizing a response to the crisis with many meetings and several high level visits to Ukraine. Secretary of State John Kerry is due in Kiev tomorrow.

Today, British foreign secretary William Hague laid flowers on Kiev's Independence Square in memory of those killed almost two weeks ago. He said the world cannot allow Russia's intervention in Ukraine, but he ruled out any military response.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Then UK is not discussing military options. Our concentration is on diplomatic and economic pressure.

CORNISH: NPR's Emily Harris is in the Ukrainian capital and joins us now. And Emily, what kind of diplomatic and economic pressure are Europe and the U.S. actually considering?

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Well, so far, the U.S., the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan have already said they're not going to participate in planning a meeting that was scheduled in Russia this summer between those seven countries and Russia, the G8 group. That could lead to actually canceling that meeting, although there is some thought that's a good communication channel with Russia, and it would be detrimental, perhaps, to cut it off.

Specific diplomatic and economic pressure haven't been named and Hague declined to name any specific actions the UK is considering today. President Obama has warned there will be costs. There are a lot of voices in the Ukraine calling for the West to carry out specific targeted sanctions against people who were responsible for allowing Russian soldiers into Crimea; freezing foreign bank accounts and posing travel bans, that type of thing.

CORNISH: But is there any real negotiation going on?

HARRIS: There have been so many top level diplomatic phone calls on this, the ones that are even made public that we know about. It's almost hard to keep track. Western leaders seem to be looking for some way out as well as putting pressure on Russia and making very strong statements that this is not permissible, that this can't be allowed to stand. They're looking for some way that would let Russian president, Vladimir Putin back down if he wants to do that.

The possibility that seems to have perhaps the greatest potential for moving forward at the moment is sending a fact-finding mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, one of the many groups that Russia participates in that perhaps could offer some neutral ground for both sides to communicate about what they think is really happening.

CORNISH: Emily, so far, in Crimea, there've been no reports of violence even between Russian troops and the Ukrainian troops stationed there. But today, we're hearing odd warnings of violence. What's really going on?

HARRIS: So Ukraine's ambassador to the EU has warned that Russia is preparing some provocation in the coming hours. On Ukrainian television, the deputy defense minister got a lot more specific, very oddly specific, saying that some people who will be dressed as Ukrainians are planning to kill three or four Russian soldiers overnight here and that that will be used as an excuse to legitimize the Russian military actions in Crimea.

There's no evidence presented as to how he knows this or what's really going on, but that's what he's been saying on Ukrainian TV. It's hard to evaluate why they would make a statement like that and what they really mean because in addition to this being an actual military crisis with soldiers on the ground, this is very much diplomatic crisis as well and there have been many different statements, counter statements, some of which proved true, some of which don't, a lot of positioning.

But that is the first warning of some kind of violent provocation that we've heard yet.

CORNISH: And in the meantime, we're hearing about these visits to Kiev, but have any international leaders gone to Crimea?

HARRIS: Not since Russian soldiers left their Black Sea Fleet bases and come onto other parts of Crimea. A special representative from the U.N. planned to go last week, but he was informed he couldn't, so he skipped that trip.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Emily Harris in Kiev. Emily, thank you.

HARRIS: Thanks a lot, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.
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