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The EU on Wednesday also froze the assets of 18 people held responsible for misappropriating state funds in Ukraine, echoing similar action in Switzerland and Austria. The list, which likely targeted officials in the ousted government or businessmen related to them, were withheld until Thursday to prevent anyone from withdrawing the funds at the last minute.
Russia has suggested that it will meet any sanctions imposed by Western governments with a tough response, and Putin has warned that those measures could incur serious "mutual damage."
In Crimea, U.N. special envoy Robert Serry was threatened by 10 to 15 armed men as he was leaving naval headquarters in Crimea, said U.N. deputy secretary-general Jan Eliasson. When the men ordered Serry to go to the airport, Serry refused — but then found himself trapped because his car was blocked, Eliasson said.
The Dutch envoy was later spotted by reporters in a coffee shop, as men in camouflage outfits stood outside. He got into a van with the men, and was taken to Simferopol airport.
Later, an Associated Press reporter found Serry in the business class lounge of the Simferopol airport.
"I’m safe. My visit was interrupted for reasons that I cannot understand," the Dutch diplomat said in a statement to AP. He said nothing more.
The Obama administration took steps Wednesday to support the defenses of U.S. allies in Europe in response to Russia’s takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the U.S. was stepping up joint aviation training with Polish forces. The Pentagon also is increasing American participation in NATO’s air policing mission in its Baltic countries, he said.
In his remarks, Hagel focused on U.S. diplomatic and aid efforts since Moscow’s incursion into Ukrainian territory. He said he’d speak later Wednesday with Ukraine’s new defense minister; Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey spoke to his Russian counterpart earlier in the day. Neither Hagel nor Dempsey mentioned military options.
"I urge continued restraint in the days ahead in order to preserve room for a diplomatic solution," Dempsey told the Senate panel.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe sent a team of 35 unarmed military personnel to Crimea on Wednesday at the fledgling government’s request.
"They will not be contented with assurances that these people are volunteers, who bought their uniforms in a shop," Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said. The hope is to learn "who is in power there and conclusions the OSCE should draw from that."
Financial markets settled down Wednesday after two days of big swings, a sign that investors believe the risk of war has been averted.
"In terms of the international stage," said analyst Joao Monteiro, "this does seem to have moved on from looking like a game of poker to one of chess."
Danilova reported from Kiev. Associated Press writers Juergen Baetz in Brussels, Laura Mills in Moscow, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, Greg Keller, and Sylvie Corbet in Paris, Julie Pace in Washington, and Pan Pylas in London contributed.
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