News / Europe

Amid Russian Threats, Ukraine Asks US Diplomat for Help

U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman (C) visits Independence Square in Kyiv, March 20, 2014.
U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman (C) visits Independence Square in Kyiv, March 20, 2014.
As the U.S. president announced tougher economic sanctions to punish Russia for moving to annex Crimea, one of his top diplomats was in the Ukrainian capital to reassure nervous Ukrainians of America's solidarity with them while they are vulnerable. 

Wendy Sherman, the fourth highest ranking official in the U.S. State Department said with her voice sometimes wavering, that she could hardly hold back tears after walking through Kyiv's Maidan (independence) square.  

The heart of the Ukrainian capital is dotted with floral makeshift memorials for the more than 100 protesters who died in clashes with police prior to the president fleeing the country for neighboring Russia.

After moving to annex Ukraine's predominately Russian-speaking Crimean peninsula, Moscow is complaining that the rights of Russian speakers are also being violated in other parts of Ukraine.

"If I listen to the Russian rhetoric I would have expected to walk through the streets of Kyiv and be attacked by dangerous elements.   I was approached by schoolchildren with flowers," Sherman told reporters when asked if reconciliation is possible with Moscow amid such threats.

Sherman met Thursday with leaders of the interim government who are in place until the scheduled May 25 elections.

Former Ukrainian ambassador to the United States Oleg Shamshur said his government is pressing her for three things, foremost of which is stronger sanctions targeting the Russian economy.

"Make it really painful for the ruling regime in Russia," Shamshur urged. "Secondly, it would be pressing for the military technical preparation because our army is in pretty bad shape.  And, thirdly, we would be looking for enhanced cooperation, first of all, to prop up the Ukrainian economy."

He said that will require significant financial assistance.

President Obama on Thursday announced additional sanctions on Russian individuals and one bank while calling for the international community to provide immediate financial aid to Kyiv.  In retaliation, Moscow imposed entry bans on nine U.S. lawmakers and officials.

Meanwhile, Russia has given Ukraine a Friday deadline to pull all of its military forces out of Crimea.

VOA News asked Ukraine's Deputy Defense Minister, Leonid Polyakov, if Kyiv would comply.

"I should say that unfortunately the curiosity about orders we will be giving tomorrow [those who] want to know are not only Voice of America but those who want to curb our best efforts," he responded.

Media reports say Ukraine's border guards are already pulling back to the mainland while Russia has begun handing out passports to Crimean residents.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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by: Alec from: Moscow
March 21, 2014 5:59 AM
Finally there appears to be some hope towards justice. It seems that the U.S. and EU officials will teach Russian oligarchs to invest in their country. The problem is that they want to live like Abramovich, but to run over the country like Stalin. However, this is still insufficient and uncomplete measures. The West must apply mote broader economic, political and diplomatic sanctions against all Russian officials, including provincial governors and bussinesmen dealing with the West. The Russian State Duma and Constitutional Court of the Russia voted unanimously for the occupation of Ukraine and the intervention of Russian troops over there. It would be fair if these sanctions be extended to all members of the Rusian Duma and Russian journalists covering events in the Russian press, all those people should also be sanctioned, their assets must be frozen, and their travels to the US and EU must be banned. If there have been not imposed further economic sanctions against the Russian oligarchs, after 5 years, Putin will invade other European country. This present lesson should be very well understood by the international community, as well as the fact that if Putin had been stopped six years ago there in Georgia, occupation of Ukraine today would not have been possible at all.

by: Anonymous
March 20, 2014 5:53 PM
Best thing ever is happening in Russia now, Russias biggest businessmen are feeling the crunch losing hundreds of millions of dollars. It is only going to go down the chain... Terrible for the people of Russia, but they need to get Putin the hell out of office before he destroys his own country by worldwide sanctions. Sadly it is up to the Russian people to oust Putin because he is poisoning the Russian world market. Putin is the worst thing possible for the Russian people, and hopefully the people of Russia rejoice and kick him out of his seat because he doesnt deserve it. Putin also should be investigated for many deaths (Chechnya, Moscow Siege, Georgia, Syria of course, and now a death in Crimea?).

Lets see a new prosperous Russia that promotes peace with the world and helping the world. What Putin is doing is not good for anyone but himself, definately not the Russian population.

Hats off to the world standing up to Putin with serious economic sanctions. Putins bully mentality will get him nowhere at all, if anything ousted, and investigated.

by: Ve Nik
March 20, 2014 1:26 PM
Obama said Ukraine is no longer a top priority for the US: finding Malaysian plane is. That's more important now. I think Ukraine got all the American help it can handle at the moment. Ukrainians were also hoping for some money, but, I guess, good advice from Washington and Brussels will have to suffice. What matters is that the West had good intentions. The road to a brighter future for Ukraine has been paved.

Right now Ukraine needs to do two things: sit quietly and try to remain in one piece until the elections, for I doubt Ukraine will survive another Maidan. I can see the incoming new government in Kiev spending a lot of time in the near future attempting to undo the damage inflicted by the current self-appointed cabinet. Ukraine has already paid too high a price for the revolutionary naivete of some of its more restless citizens. I can only hope this was a brief lapse of judgement and not an emerging pattern of social collapse.

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