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Ukraine

US announces major aid package as Kerry arrives in Kyiv

Ukraine's government has fortified defenses as Russia's Vladimir Putin has vowed to leave all options on the table. Secretary of State John Kerry has flown to Ukraine to show US support for the fledgling government.

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived ín Kyiv Tuesday as the government grapples with a Russian military takeover of Crimea, a strategic region in Ukraine's southeast, and as Vladimir Putin said that threatened economic sanctions would not deter him. The Russian president spoke earlier Tuesday in his first comments since Ukraine's new interim leaders accused him of sending an estimated 16,000 troops into the Crimean peninsula.

"There can be one assessment of what happened in Kyiv and Ukraine as a whole," Putin said Tuesday. "This was an anti-constitutional takeover and armed seizure of power."

On Tuesday, the United States also announced an aid package worth $1 billion (730 million euros) aimed at helping the economically struggling Ukraine insulate itself from reduction in energy supplies from Russia, which supplies a substantial portion of the country's natural gas. The United States announced that it intended for the assistance to supplement a broader aid package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which currently has officials in Ukraine working with the new government.

'Safe and sound'

On Tuesday, Putin said that he currently saw no need for military involvement, although he reserved the right to use all means to protect ethnic Russians in Ukraine.

Putin said former President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia, remains the only legitimate leader of Ukraine. He said he saw Yanukoych two days ago and he was "safe and sound," denying rumors he had died of a heart attack.

Putin did admit, however, that Yanukovych had no political future. Ukraine's interim government took control after Yanukovych was ousted following three months of protests.

Increasing tensions

On Tuesday, Putin accused other countries of encouraging an "unconstitutional coup" in Ukraine and driving it into anarchy, declaring that any international sanctions placed on Russia would backfire. US and European leaders have begun considering sanctions on exports from Russia's natural gas, uranium and coal industries. On Monday, the Pentagon had announced that it would suspend military-to-military engagements between the United States and Russia, including exercises, bilateral meetings, port visits and conferences.

Speaking Monday at the UN in Geneva, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attempted to deflect blame back on the United States and European Union. He defended the deployment of troops in Ukraine as a necessary protection for ethnic Russians living there.

"Those who are trying to interpret the situation as a sort of aggression and threatening us with sanctions and boycotts, these are the same partners who have been consistently and vigorously encouraging the political powers close to them to declare ultimatums and renounce dialogue," Lavrov said. "This is a question of defending our citizens and compatriots, ensuring human rights, especially the right to life," he added.

mkg/kms (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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