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On Pittsburgh visit, ambassador says $15B in aid to Ukraine shows support

Friday, March 7, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

European leaders want to signal their support for Ukraine's new government by providing a $15 billion aid package for the country as it seeks to fend off Russian aggression, the European Union's ambassador to the United States told the Tribune-Review.

João Vale de Almeida, who heads the EU's delegation in the United States, monitored developments across the Atlantic while visiting Pittsburgh on Thursday. He met with Mayor Bill Peduto, spoke at the University of Pittsburgh and attended a World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh reception.

“We were quite impressed by the number of EU flags we saw in Maidan Square in the last couple of months,” Vale de Almeida said, referring to the plaza in Kiev, Ukraine, where protesters forced a change in government. “We see this as a clear expression of the Ukrainians peoples' wish to move closer to the European Union.”

Almeida's visit occurred as U.S. and European leaders continued to push diplomatically against Russian military forces, which have occupied Ukraine's Crimean peninsula since Saturday.

In Washington, President Obama authorized the Treasury Department to impose sanctions against “individuals and entities” who are responsible for Russia's military takeover in Crimea or responsible for “stealing the assets of the Ukrainian people.”

The financial measures, and a separate ban on U.S. visas for some top Russian officials, are part of the administration's effort to squeeze the Kremlin into pulling back its troops from Crimea, a largely pro-Russian region that does not recognize the country's new, Western-backed leadership. U.S. officials want Russia to pull its troops back to designated bases in Crimea, allow international monitors into Crimea and open talks with the Ukrainian government.

Obama dismissed as “unconstitutional” a planned referendum in Crimea over whether people there want to remain part of Ukraine.

EU leaders gathered at their Brussels headquarters to consider similar consequences. In a communique, they said they would “decide on additional measures, such as travel bans, asset freezes” and cancellation of an upcoming EU-Russia summit.

Europe has been divided between those countries with financial ties to Russia, and Eastern European governments that fear a Soviet-style expansion.

Vale de Almeida described the EU as “rational rather than emotional” during a ceremony at Pitt to name its EU documents collection for Barbara Sloan, a volunteer at the university library who worked at the EU's library in Washington for 35 years.

Europeans, so far, are not discussing military action for Ukraine, Vale de Almeida said after the event.

“We are working very hard to find a diplomatic solution to avoid an escalation of the conflict,” Vale de Almeida said. “... But we are also saying, any further escalation of the conflict will have consequences.”

The ambassador praised Ukrainians for their restraint in not fighting the Russians. He said any resolution of the crisis needs to include accommodations for Ukraine's Russian-speaking minority.

After a meeting in Brussels, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arsenii Yatseniuk said “no military option is on the table.”

“It's clear that it's up to the Russian government to make the first step back,” Yatseniuk said. “They need to put an end to this.”

Andrew Conte is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7835 or The Washington Post contributed to this report.

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