KIEV, Ukraine - Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Ukraine Tuesday to show solidarity with the government installed after ousted Kremlin-backed President Viktor Yanukovych fled the capital and took refugee in Russia. The trip comes amid mounting concerns over Russia's ongoing military occupation of the strategic Crimean peninsula in the Black Sea.
As Kerry flew into Kiev, a senior State Department official said sanctions would likely be brought against Russia in a matter of "days," but the scale, scope, and focus of the punitive actions was still being considered, and was partially contingent on Russian actions going forward.
U.S. officials said the White House would announce a $1 billion loan guarantee to Ukraine, to help offset lost energy subsidies from Moscow as it seeks to extract itself from Russia's influence.
A team of technical experts from the U.S. Treasury Department was expected to arrive and look at Ukraine's finances to assess the damage done so far. Also, the U.S. was to send election observers for scheduled May elections, as well as anti-corruption experts to help recover stolen assets.
Ten observers were expected to come from The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which already has an advance team in Kiev.
The U.S. and its partners intend to offer Russia an "off ramp" to deescalate the crisis, officials say, which will be contingent upon Russian troops returning to their barracks and international observers being sent in.Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday Moscow reserves the right to use all means to protect Russians in Ukraine, which is the reason often repeated by Russian officials to justify their actions against their neighbor.
U.S. officials have said they have seen no evidence of attacks on Russian-speakers or Orthodox churches in Crimea or elsewhere in Ukraine.
Putin also said Tuesday he hopes that Russia won't need to use force in predominantly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.
U.S. officials said they remained "very" concerned Russia would expand its military incursion beyond the Crimean peninsula into other Russian-majority parts of eastern Ukraine.