Russia, West try to hammer out Ukraine diplomacy

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From left, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, French President Francois Hollande, Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, talk together during a break of a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. 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. (AP Photo/Alain Jocard, Pool)

From left, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, French President Francois Hollande, Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, talk together during a break of a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. 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. (AP Photo/Alain Jocard, Pool)

French President Francois Hollande, left, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, center, and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, right, talk together while German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, background left, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov background right, talk together behind them during a break of a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. 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. (AP Photo/Alain Jocard, Pool)

Ukrainian men wearing camouflage uniforms march along a street at a memorial for people killed during clashes with police at Kiev’s Independence Square, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. Stepping back from the brink of war, Vladimir Putin talked tough but cooled tensions in the Ukraine crisis Tuesday, saying Russia has no intention “to fight the Ukrainian people” but reserves the right to use force. As the Russian president held court in his personal residence, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Kiev’s fledgling government and urged Putin to stand down. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meet at the Russian Ambassador’s Residence in Paris, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. Russia rebuffed Western demands to withdraw forces in Ukraine’s Crimea region to their bases on Wednesday amid a day of high-stakes diplomacy in Paris aimed at easing tensions over Ukraine and averting the risk of war. (AP Photo/Kevin Lamarque, Pool)

Secretary of State John Kerry, center, walks up the stairs to board his plane before his departure from Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Ahead of Kerry on the stairs is Ukraine Foreign Minister Andrii Deshchytsia, who is travelling to Paris with Kerry. Kerry announced an economic package and technical assistance for Ukraine in a show of support for its new government amid escalating tensions with Russia. Kerry’s visit comes as Washington and its Western allies step up pressure on Moscow to withdraw its troops from Ukraine’s Crimea region or face economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation. (AP Photo/Kevin Lamarque, Pool)

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PARIS (AP) — Facing off in Europe’s capitals, Russia and the West began trying to build the elements of a diplomatic solution to Europe’s gravest crisis since the Cold War — even as the West appeared increasingly resigned to an entrenched Russian presence in Crimea. NATO hit back by putting Russia on suspension, and the European Union extended $15 billion in aid to Ukraine, matching the amount the country’s fugitive president accepted from Moscow to turn his back on an EU trade accord.

As peace efforts progressed in Paris and Brussels, volatility reigned on the ground in Ukraine: A special U.N. envoy visiting Crimea came under threat by armed men who forced him to leave the region. Meanwhile, hundreds of demonstrators, many chanting “Russia! Russia!” stormed a government building in eastern Ukraine — renewing fears that turmoil could spill out of Crimea and engulf other Russian-dominated parts of Ukraine.

Ukraine’s prime minister told The Associated Press in his first interview since taking office that he still feared Russian President Vladimir Putin might attempt more land grabs: “Mr. President,” Arseniy Yatsenyuk said, “stop this mess.”

Yatsenyuk vowed to keep Crimea as part of Ukraine, but expressed openness to granting it more autonomy. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Andriy Deshchytsia, told the AP that pro-Russian citizens in Crimea must be willing to replace armed forces with international observers if they want a vote on more self-rule.

But most of the bargaining chips Wednesday belonged to Russia, whose troops are fanned out across Crimea and control most of its strategic facilities.

A growing chorus of prominent American voices expressed resignation that Crimea was lost to Russia: “I’m not optimistic they’re going to leave,” said Michael McFaul, who served as Obama’s ambassador to Russia until last week.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and several European counterparts conducted an intense round of diplomacy in Paris to try to find an exit strategy in Ukraine. While negotiations were inconclusive, top European officials expressed optimism that at least the two sides were talking — and making progress.

“For the first time, starting with this meeting in Paris, something moved in the right direction,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

Lavrov, speaking in Spain before meeting with Kerry, warned against Western support of what Moscow views as a Ukrainian coup, saying that could encourage government takeovers elsewhere.

“If we indulge those who are trying to rule our great, kind historic neighbor,” Lavrov said, “we must understand that a bad example is infectious.”

Russia expressed openness to international mediation, and the talks were a “work in progress,” said a French diplomat on condition of anonymity because of government policy. But a major sticking point has been Moscow’s refusal to recognize Ukraine’s new government much

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