PARIS — The European Union prepared $15 billion in aid to Ukraine and top diplomats from the West and Russia gathered in Paris on Wednesday to defuse tensions over the Russian military takeover of the strategic Crimean Peninsula.
NATO prepared to take up the issue directly with Russia in an extraordinary meeting of the military alliance, originally created as a counterbalance to the Soviet Union, and an international team of military observers headed to tense Crimea.
The ultimate goal in Paris is to get the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers in the same room, negotiating directly in the fast-moving dispute.
"It will be a test this afternoon of whether Russia is prepared to sit down with Ukraine, and we will strongly recommend that they do so," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.
On the verge of economic collapse, Ukraine accused Russia of a military invasion after pro-Russian troops took over Crimea on Saturday, placing forces around its ferry, military bases and border posts. Moscow does not recognize the new Ukrainian leadership in Kiev that ousted the pro-Russian president, and raised the pressure by threatening to end discounts on natural gas supplies.
Wednesday's offer by the European Union matched the Russian bailout for fugitive President Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych took the Russian loans instead of a wide-ranging trade and economic agreement with the EU, which fueled the protests that eventually led to his ouster.
Read tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.