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Russia rebuffs West on Crimea

The EU meanwhile offered Ukraine's new pro-Western government 11 billion euros in financial aid.

Ukrainian soldiers stand guard on board the navy corvette Ternopil as Russian forces patrol nearby in the harbour of the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol on March 5 2014. Picture: AFP.

PARIS/KIEV - Russia said on Wednesday it could not order "self-defence" forces in Ukraine's Crimea region back to their bases ahead of crucial ministerial talks in Paris aimed at easing tensions of over Ukraine and averting the risk of war.

The European Union meanwhile offered Ukraine's new pro-Western government 11 billion euros in financial aid in the next couple of years provided Kiev reaches a deal with the International Monetary Fund.

Russia and the West are locked in the most serious confrontation since the end of the Cold War over influence in the former Soviet republic, a major commodities exporter and strategic link between East and West.

Ukraine pulled out of a deal with the EU under Russian pressure last year, sparking months of protests in Kiev and the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovich, a Russian ally, last month.

Russia has effectively occupied Crimea, where its Black Sea fleet is based, raising international tensions and provoking sharp falls in financial markets on Monday, although they have since stabilised.

Speaking before meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry and other Western ministers in Paris, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated Moscow's assertion that the troops that have seized control of the Black Sea peninsula are not under Russian command.

Asked whether Moscow would order forces in Crimea back to their bases, Lavrov said: "If you mean the self-defence units created by the inhabitants of Crimea, we give them no orders, they take no orders from us."

Russia did not attend a meeting with Kerry, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia of the so-called Budapest group,created to assure Ukraine's security after it abandoned nuclear weapons in 1994.

But Kerry and Hague said they would try to bring the Russian and Ukrainian ministers together later in the day.

Poland's foreign minister tweeted that he would attend a meeting in Paris with those two ministers plus the United States, Germany, Britain, France and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

There was no immediate confirmation that all sides would attend the French-brokered session, which could be the first step towards a diplomatic mediation process.

Meanwhile, the US military is stepping up joint training through an aviation detachment in Poland and boosting participation in a NATO air policing mission, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress on Wednesday.

Hagel said he aimed to speak with his Ukrainian counterpart on Wednesday and that the top US military officer, General Martin Dempsey, had spoken with his Russian counterpart earlier in the day.