* Lavrov meets Western ministers, snubs Ukrainian
* Kerry says talks to continue
* Russia says can't give orders to Crimea units
* EU offers Ukraine 11 billion euros in aid
* NATO to cut back on cooperation with Russia
* Pentagon announces military support for E.Europe allies
By John Irish and Timothy Heritage
PARIS/KIEV, March 5 High-level diplomatic
efforts to resolve the crisis in Ukraine made little apparent
headway at talks in Paris on Wednesday with Moscow and
Washington at odds and Russia's foreign minister refusing to
recognise his Ukrainian counterpart.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said discussions would
continue in the coming days in an attempt to stabilise the
crisis and he expected to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei
Lavrov again in Rome on Thursday.
"Don't assume that we did not have serious conversations
which produced creative and appropriate ideas on how to resolve
this, we have a number of ideas on the table," he said after
talks with ministers from Ukraine, Russia, Britain and France.
"I don't think any of us had an anticipation that we were
coming here at this moment, in this atmosphere of heightened
tension and confrontation, that we were suddenly going to
resolve that here, this afternoon," Kerry said.
Russia had earlier rebuffed Western demands that its forces
that have seized control of Ukraine's Crimea region should
return to their bases.
NATO, at a meeting in Brussels, announced it was cutting
back on cooperation with Russia to try to pressure it into
backing down on Ukraine and suspended planning for a joint
mission linked to Syrian chemical weapons. The alliance said it
would step up engagement with Ukraine's new leadership.
The European Union offered Ukraine's new pro-Western
government 11 billion euros ($15 billion) 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.
Ukraine's new finance minister, Oleksander Shlapak, caused a
fall in the Ukrainian bond and currency markets by saying his
economically shattered country may start talks with creditors on
restructuring its foreign currency debt.
Russia and the West are locked in the most serious battle
since the end of the Cold War for influence in Ukraine, a former
Soviet republic with historic ties to Moscow that is a major
commodities exporter and strategic link between East and West.
Ukraine pulled out of a trade deal with the EU under Russian
pressure last year, sparking months of protests in Kiev and the
Feb. 22 ouster of Yanukovich, a Russian ally.
Ukraine says Russia has occupied Crimea, where the Russian
Black Sea fleet is based, provoking an international outcry and
sharp falls in financial markets on Monday, though they have
Lavrov said discussions on Ukraine would continue, but he
did not talk to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchitsya,
whose new government is regarded as illegitimate by Moscow.
As he left the Foreign Ministry in Paris, Lavrov was asked
if he had met his Ukrainian counterpart. "Who is that?" the
Russian minister asked.
Deshchitsya said he believed a "positive outcome" would
emerge. Asked why he had not met Lavrov, he shrugged his
shoulders and raised his eyebrows.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the situation
was not easy.
"We are happy that this meeting in Paris allowed us get
things under way. We agreed to try to find a peaceful solution
in the coming days to get out of this crisis ... something moved
in the right direction."
A senior U.S. State Department official denied Russian
reports that Moscow and the Western powers had agreed that the
Ukrainian government and opposition should to stick to a
European Union-brokered peace deal.
"There were no agreements in this meeting, and there never
will be without direct Ukrainian government involvement and
absolute buy-in," the official said.
Wednesday's talks in Paris were an effort by France to
capitalize on the presence of major power foreign ministers in
the French capital for a long-scheduled meeting on Lebanon.
A first attempt to get Lavrov and Deshchitsya together at
the Elysee Palace of President Francois Hollande failed, as did
a subsequent attempt at the Foreign Ministry.
Meetings involving the foreign ministers of France, Russia,
the United States, Poland, Germany, Poland and Ukraine took
place in various combinations during the day, but never with the
Russian and Ukrainian ministers in the same room together.
Later, President Barack Obama spoke by phone to British
Prime Minister David Cameron and they expressed "grave concern
over Russia's clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty", the
White House said.
Earlier, Lavrov repeated Moscow's assertion - ridiculed by
the West - that the troops that have seized control of the Black
Sea peninsula are not under Russian command.
Asked whether Moscow would order forces in Crimea back to
their bases, Lavrov said 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."
A U.N. special envoy had to abandon a mission to Crimea
after being stopped by armed men and besieged inside a cafe by a
hostile crowd shouting "Russia! Russia!" Dutch diplomat Robert
Serry flew to Istanbul after the incident.
In a sign of heightened tensions in eastern Ukraine, a
pro-Russian crowd in Donetsk, Yanukovich's home town, recaptured
the regional administration building they had occupied before
being ejected by police.
The West is pushing for Russia to return troops to barracks,
accept international monitors in Crimea and Ukraine and
negotiate a solution to the crisis through a "contact group"
probably under the auspices of a pan-European security body.
Britain said it would join other European Union countries in
freezing the assets of 18 Ukrainians suspected of
misappropriating state funds, and Canada announced economic
sanctions on senior members of the government of ousted
President Viktor Yanukovich.
France said EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday could
decide on sanctions against Russia if there is no
"de-escalation" by then. Other EU countries, including Germany,
are more reticent about sanctions.
President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday defended Russia's
actions in Crimea, which used to be Russian territory, and said
he would use force only as a last resort.
This eased market fears of a war after sharp falls on
Monday, though Russian shares and the rouble slipped again on
Wednesday, and Ukraine's hryvnia dropped against the dollar.
The Pentagon will more than double the number of U.S.
fighter jets on a NATO air patrol mission in the Baltics and do
more training with Poland's air force as it strives to reassure
allies alarmed by the crisis in Ukraine, officials in Washington
said on Wednesday.