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As Russia And The West Trade Shots Across The Bow, Kiev Looks On


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

The U.S. and Europe imposed new sanctions on Russian leaders today in response to Russia's takeover of Crimea. The Russians responded with their own sanctions. The country's foreign minister accused Kiev of organizing attacks on Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine. And in Crimea itself, there were more incidents of pro-Russian forces taking over Ukrainian territory, while members of the pro-Kiev Tatar minority, along with thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and their families in the peninsula, are still caught in a legal limbo.

We'll hear more about the Tatar is in the moment. But first, we're joined by Eleanor Beardsley in Kiev. Eleanor, both the U.S. and Europe toughened sanctions on Russia today. Tell us about that.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: That's right. President Obama announced that the U.S. is levying a new round of sanctions on a bigger hit list of individuals in Russia. And these include government and business leaders who are close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, some for many years, and a bank. So, some of these people are the richest men in Russia. The list also includes a lot of people from St. Petersburg, that's Putin's home town.

So these are local business leaders who've, you know, profited the most from their long relationship with Vladimir Putin. And one of those influential St. Petersburg Russians is a man named Yuri Kovalchuk. He's a very close friend to Putin and his known as Putin's banker. He's also one of the owners of Rossiya Bank, which was also targeted, its assets frozen today. The U.S. says it has about $10 billion in assets and handles the business of these rich Russians. So these are the new people and the bank on the list. And top Obama aides call them cronies and a crony bank.

SIEGEL: So those are the new U.S. sanctions. What about the Europeans, what did they do?

BEARDSLEY: Pretty much the same thing, they imposed an asset freeze and travel ban on more people in Putin's inner circle. And German Chancellor Angela Merkel actually went farther today. She warned that the measures could go beyond targeting specific individuals. It would be much higher level economic sanctions and even an arms embargo if Russia did not pull back. And that's big because the EU is Russia's biggest trading partner, so that would hurt. And the EU canceled today what was seen for the Russians as an important EU-Russia summit in June.

SIEGEL: So how is Russia reacting to the news out of both Brussels and Washington?

BEARDSLEY: Well, Russia has slapped its own travel ban on nine U.S. lawmakers. You know, it said that the West's sanctions were a double-edged sword. And it said it would boomerang. And, you know, one of the people on this list is Senator John McCain from Arizona. Now, he's no big fan of Russia and I doubt he was planning to go there anytime soon.

But more seriously, what Russia did today is their lower house of parliament, the Duma, ratified the treaty that would take Crimea into the Russian Federation. Now it just has to be signed by Putin, rubberstamped by the upper house and it's going to be a done deal for them.

SIEGEL: And what's actually happening today in Ukraine and Crimea?

BEARDSLEY: Right, I mean as if all that weren't enough, on the ground it's moving very fast. There were reports this morning that pro-Russia forces actually stormed two or maybe three Ukrainian warships in the Port of Sevastopol. This remains to be confirmed.

This morning, the Deputy Defense Minister spoke to the press and he said the families of the Ukrainian troops in Crimea were being taken out. But he seemed unclear when any sort of troops, Ukrainian troops would be leaving. Ukrainians say that their soldiers are under siege in Crimea. They want to make the whole peninsula a demilitarized zone. They've asked for the U.N. to intercede.

Speaking of the U.N., the head of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, is in Moscow today meeting with Russian authorities. He's going to be in Kiev tomorrow. He's looking for a solution. He's trying to calm tensions. But tomorrow, as well, Ukraine's new prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, plans to sign a political agreement with EU leaders. This is showing that Ukraine's new interim government there's no turning back, they want to go towards Europe and they're making it clear.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. Eleanor, thank you.

BEARDSLEY: Good to be with you, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.