PARIS (AP) — Top diplomats from the West and Russia trying to find an end to the crisis in Ukraine are gathering in Paris on Wednesday as tensions simmered over the Russian military takeover of the strategic Crimean Peninsula.
A team of international observers headed to Crimea, Europe debated the size of its aid package to the nearly bankrupt Ukraine, and NATO prepared to take up the issue directly with Russia in an extraordinary meeting of the military alliance originally created as a counter to the Soviet Union.
The envoys from Russia, Ukraine, the U.S., Britain and France are not necessarily all at the same table, but French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said everyone has been working non-stop for a diplomatic solution.
"We have a principle of firmness but at the same time of searching for dialogue," Fabius said as he stood alongside his Ukrainian counterpart, making his first trip abroad in the new post.
Ukraine has 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.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaking in Spain ahead of meetings planned with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris, warned against Western support of what Moscow views as a coup. If you did that, he said, it would encourage government takeovers elsewhere.
"If we indulge those who are trying to rule our great, kind historic neighbor, we must understand that a bad example is infectious," Lavrov said.
Wednesday's gathering, originally scheduled to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis, came after Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to step back from the brink of war, but the crisis is far from resolved.
"This is my first trip to such an important venue where the Ukrainian future, maybe the future of the region, will be decided," Andriy Deshchytsia, Ukraine's foreign minister, said of the meetings in Paris. "We want to keep neighborly relations with the Russian people. We want to settle this peacefully."
On the flight from Kiev to Paris, Deshchytsia told reporters that Ukraine was unlikely to go to war to prevent Russia from annexing Crimea but said doing so wouldn't be necessary because Russia would be unwilling to suffer the resulting economic penalties and diplomatic isolation.
Ukraine is near bankruptcy, and the European Union's executive arm was supposed to decide Wednesday on a package of support measures to add to the $1 billion energy subsidy package aid promised by the U.S. Russian troops remain.
Russia has suggested that it will meet any sanctions imposed by Western governments with a tough response, and President Putin warned in a press conference on Tuesday that those measures could incur serious "mutual damage."
On Wednesday, members of Russia's upper house of parliament told state news agency RIA Novosti that they had introduced a bill that would freeze the assets of European and American companies working in Russia in reaction to any sanctions.
Associated Press writers Laura Mills in Moscow, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, and Lara Jakes and Greg Keller in Paris, and Juergen Baetz in Brussels contributed.
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