The European Union has said that it is freezing the assets of 18 people - including the deposed president, Viktor Yanukovych - suspected of misappropriating Ukrainian state funds. This precedes an EU leaders' summit.
The European Council on Thursday morning announced that it was freezing assets within the EU belonging to "certain persons identified as responsible for the misappropriation of Ukrainian state funds and persons responsible for human rights violations in Ukraine," putting Viktor Yanukovych at the top of its 18-person list.
Around lunch time on Thursday, European Union leaders are scheduled to convene for a summit called earlier in the week in response to the Crimean situation.
"This is the first time since many years that we have the perception in Europe of a real threat to our stability and even to peace in this continent," European Commission Presdient Jose Manuel Barroso said ahead of the summit.
The Commission on Wednesday also proposed emergency loans worth around 11 billion euros ($15.1 billion) for the government in Kyiv, one of the first points on Thursday's agenda. The figure is almost identical to the roughly $15 billion in loans Russia had pledged to Ukraine after Yanukovych's ousted government backed out of a planned Association Agreement with the EU late last year, triggering the protests that led to his ouster. The change of government in Kyiv prompted Moscow to rescind its offer of loans and cheaper natural gas.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel cancelled her traditional annual appearance on Ash Wednesday - a day when it's customary for German politicians from all parties to deliver unusually fiery speeches to mark the end of Carnival - to prepare for the swiftly-convened EU meeting. Her foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, warned ahead of the summit that Russia would need to "credibly prove" that it was working towards a normalization of the Crimean situation, "otherwise it will be inevitable that decisions regarding sanctions are reached in the coming days."
Minimal movement in Paris
Top-level diplomatic negotiations in Paris on Wednesday seeking a solution to the standoff in Crimea produced few concrete results. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declined to open direct talks with his opposite number in Ukraine's interim government, Andriy Deschchytsia. Moscow has not recognized Kyiv's new leadership. However, Lavrov did pledge to continue negotiations with his counterparts from countries including France, Germany, the US and the UK.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who visited Kyiv on Tuesday prior to the meeting in Paris, described the talks as "very constructive," albeit adding that he did not want to raise "inappropriate" hopes.
"I want to be realistic. This is hard, tough stuff, and a very serious moment," Kerry said. "I personally feel that I have something concrete to take back and talk to President Obama about."
Lavrov described the Paris meeting as "a very long day," and said talks would continue "about how we can help in efforts to normalize the situation and overcome the crisis."
Germany's Steinmeier confessed that he had hoped for more from Wednesday's discussions: "There are still difficult days ahead of us," he surmised, but added that all parties shared a desire to prevent the situation from escalating.
NATO puts cooperation on ice
The NATO alliance also held talks with Russia in Brussels on Wednesday, with Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen saying afterwards that "the entire range of NATO-Russia cooperation is under review." Rasmussen said that all political negotiating channels would remain open, but that the postponement of other joint projects "sends a very clear message to Russia."
Ukraine's interim government and the US, among others, accuse the Russian military of orchestrating the bloodless seizure of control of the Crimean Peninsula in southern Ukraine. Moscow disputes this, however, saying it has no control or authority over the Russian-speaking armed groups in the region.
msh/jm (AP, dpa, Reuters)