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WASHINGTON (AP) — Russia is unlikely to pull back its military forces in Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, analysts and former Obama administration officials say, forcing the United States and Europe into a more limited strategy of trying to prevent President Vladimir Putin from making advances elsewhere in the former Soviet republic.

It's an unsettling scenario for President Barack Obama, who is under pressure to show he has leverage over Putin in a deepening conflict between East and West. The threat of economic sanctions, along with a series of modest measures that include canceling trade talks with Moscow and suspending plans to attend an international summit in Russia, have so far done little to persuade the Russian leader to pull his forces back from Crimea.

"I'm not optimistic they're going to leave," said Michael McFaul, who served as Obama's ambassador to Russia until just last week.

McFaul, in an interview on MSNBC, said he was expressing his personal view, not speaking on behalf of the administration. White House officials have condemned Russia's military maneuvers in Crimea as a violation of international law and insist they would oppose any long-term occupation of the region.

"We would not find that to be acceptable," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.

A senior administration official said it would be up to Ukraine's central government to decide the future of Crimea, where nearly 60 percent of the population identify themselves as Russians. The official said the U.S. would oppose any Russian efforts to formally annex Crimea or recognize its independence, steps that would echo Moscow's moves during its 2008 conflict with Georgia, another former Soviet republic.

Ukraine is in the midst of a monthslong political crisis sparked by ousted President Viktor Yanukovych's rejection of a partnership agreement with the European Union in favor of historical ties with Moscow. After Yanukovych fled Ukraine last week, Russian forces quickly moved into Crimea, despite Obama's warnings that there would be costs for violating Ukraine's territorial integrity.

Putin's fast and defiant dismissal of Obama's threats sparked a new round of criticism from the White House's Republican opponents. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., accused Obama of having "a feckless foreign policy in which nobody believes in America's strength anymore."

Obama and his advisers insist they still have an array of options at their disposal, the most stringent being economic sanctions that could go into effect as early as this week. The European Union appears to be treading more cautiously, but the bloc's 28 leaders are set to decide on initial sanctions at an emergency meeting in Brussels on Thursday.

But even with tough economic penalties, some regional analysts say it may already be too late to reverse course in Crimea.

"The idea that there's a contest over Crimea is a little silly," said Matthew Rojansky, a Russia analyst at the Wilson Center, a think tank in Washington. "It's in Russian hands and it was always on the verge of being in Russian hands."

Rojansky said the most pressing concern for the U.S. is instead to keep Putin from pushing into Russian-friendly areas of eastern Ukraine, where U.S. officials are warily eyeing ethnic skirmishes. Putin on Tuesday said he saw no reason for Russia to intervene there at the moment but added that he reserved the right to take that step if Russian speakers in the region were in danger.

The Crimean peninsula is separated from the rest of Ukraine by geography, history and politics. It only became part of Ukraine in 1954, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave the peninsula to the republic where he began his political career, a transfer that hardly mattered until the Soviet Union broke up in 1991 and Crimea ended up in an independent Ukraine.

Crimea's port city of Sevastopol is also home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet and its thousands of naval personnel. Yanukovych, the ousted Ukrainian president, extended the fleet's lease until 2042, but Russia fears that Ukraine's temporary pro-Western government could evict it.

The U.S. is not calling for a full Russian withdrawal from Crimea, the Obama administration official said, but does want Moscow's forces to return to their normal operating position at their base, where they have an agreement with Ukraine to keep up to 11,000 troops. The official wasn't authorized to discuss the situation by name and would speak only on condition of anonymity.

The situation in Crimea has drawn comparisons to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two breakaway territories of the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Russia has continued to maintain a military presence in both, violating a cease-fire that ended its 2008 military conflict with Georgia and ignoring repeated condemnations from the U.S. and Europe.

Barry Pavel, who worked on the White House National Security Council under both Obama and President George W. Bush, said reasserting control of Crimea may be even more important to Russia than the Georgian territories.

"Russian nationalists consider this to be practically Russian territory," said Pavel, who now serves as vice president of the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank. "The chances of Russian forces ever leaving where they are are very low."

The long-term ramifications of Russia's remaining in Crimea are unclear, particularly as the rest of Ukraine works through its next steps following Yanukovych's ouster. But Heather Conley, a Europe analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it would be a dangerous proposition for the U.S. and Europe to allow Putin to view gains in Crimea as an opportunity to launch incursions elsewhere in the region.

"Then this does start looking like appeasement," she said. "If you believe that more is in the offing, you have to take a stand now."

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PARIS (AP) — 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.

A team of international observers headed to Crimea, Europe debated the size of its aid package to the nearly bankrupt Ukraine, and NATO prepared to take up the issue directly with Russia in an extraordinary meeting of the military alliance originally created as a counter to the Soviet Union.

The envoys from Russia, Ukraine, the U.S., Britain and France are not necessarily all at the same table, but French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said everyone has been working non-stop for a diplomatic solution.

"We have a principle of firmness but at the same time of searching for dialogue," Fabius said as he stood alongside his Ukrainian counterpart, making his first trip abroad in the new post.

Ukraine has accused Russia of a military invasion after pro-Russian troops took over Crimea on Saturday, placing forces around its ferry, military bases and border posts. Moscow does not recognize the new Ukrainian leadership in Kiev that ousted the pro-Russian president.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaking in Spain ahead of meetings planned with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris, warned against Western support of what Moscow views as a coup. If you did that, he said, it would encourage government takeovers elsewhere.

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

Wednesday's gathering, originally scheduled to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis, came after Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to step back from the brink of war, but the crisis is far from resolved.

"This is my first trip to such an important venue where the Ukrainian future, maybe the future of the region, will be decided," Andriy Deshchytsia, Ukraine's foreign minister, said of the meetings in Paris. "We want to keep neighborly relations with the Russian people. We want to settle this peacefully."

On the flight from Kiev to Paris, Deshchytsia told reporters that Ukraine was unlikely to go to war to prevent Russia from annexing Crimea but said doing so wouldn't be necessary because Russia would be unwilling to suffer the resulting economic penalties and diplomatic isolation.

Ukraine is near bankruptcy, and the European Union's executive arm was supposed to decide Wednesday on a package of support measures to add to the $1 billion energy subsidy package aid promised by the U.S. Russian troops remain.

Russia has suggested that it will meet any sanctions imposed by Western governments with a tough response, and President Putin warned in a press conference on Tuesday that those measures could incur serious "mutual damage."

On Wednesday, members of Russia's upper house of parliament told state news agency RIA Novosti that they had introduced a bill that would freeze the assets of European and American companies working in Russia in reaction to any sanctions.

___

Associated Press writers Laura Mills in Moscow, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, and Lara Jakes and Greg Keller in Paris, and Juergen Baetz in Brussels contributed.

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ST. LOUIS (AP) -- In both of Ryan Miller's starts with the St. Louis Blues, they've faced two-goal deficits. Both times, they've rallied to win.
 
Though they're still learning what type of player Miller can be, it took no time at all to pick up on the calming influence projected from the man in net.
 
"His disposition and the way he carries himself has a professionalism to it that I think over time just rubs off on everybody," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Coaches, players - from the time he comes into the building, the way he carries himself has a positive effect on everybody."
 
Alexander Steen got the go-ahead goal early in the third period in a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night. Miller, who got a huge ovation during player introductions, made sure it stood up in his first home start since the Blues acquired him from Buffalo.
 
"I don't think it was just another game," Miller said. "My sports psychologist will probably get mad at me for saying it's just another game.
 
"It was special. It's nice to get the win at home."
 
T.J. Oshie's short-handed goal tied it in the second period and he assisted on Steen's 29th of the season for the Central Division leaders. Patrik Berglund started the comeback with his third goal in two games and Vladimir Tarasenko's empty-net score cinched it with a half-minute to go.
 
Alex Killorn and Tyler Johnson gave Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, a St. Louis native and former Blue, an early cushion against an opponent that's had to come from behind in all four games since the Olympic break.
 
"I would have liked to have done a little better," Bishop said. "It's one of those things where it's nice to play in front of family and friends, and it would have been nice to get the W."
 
Miller made his second career appearance in St. Louis and faced just 17 shots against a team playing on the road for the eighth time in 10 games. He made a nice glove save on Martin St. Louis with just under two minutes to play.
 
The Blues also rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat Phoenix 4-2 on Sunday. They're 19-4-2 against the Eastern Conference, including 11-0-1 at home.
 
Tampa Bay is 3-7 in its last 10 games and was 1-3 on a four-game trip.
 
"We had multiple-goal leads in three of the four games and we led in every single game, but if you're going to sit here and take 16 shots in one game, 17 shots in another game, 21 shots in another game and expect to win games, it's not going to happen," coach Jon Cooper said. "Unacceptable."
 
Oshie slipped past St. Louis in front of the net and then beat Bishop with a backhander for the Blues' third short-handed goal of the season at the midpoint of David Backes' minor slashing penalty. Backes dropped his gloves preparing to fight after trading hacks with Hedman. But Hedman backed off and the Blues captain was cordoned off by a linesman before skating off in anger.
 
Backes threw his helmet down the corridor on his way to the locker room, and didn't play the rest of the period while getting medical attention from a blow to the jaw.
 
"He might have me by 30 pounds and I've had my nose fixed before, but at that point in the game I was trying to get a little bit of a spark and try to get the guys going," Backes said. "I don't really want to take a two-minute penalty there, but to get a short-handed goal on that sort of penalty makes you feel a little bit better."
 
Killorn capitalized on a giveaway by defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk in the St. Louis zone for his 15th goal. Johnson scored on a power play for his 18th of the season and first in eight games with Brenden Morrow off for high-sticking at 14:49.
 
Notes: The Lightning play the next six games at home starting with Thursday against Buffalo. ... Tampa Bay C Valtteri Filppula returned after missing four games with a non-displaced right ankle fracture and played 22 minutes with one shot. ... Steen earned his 200th career assist on Oshie's short-handed goal. ... The Blues are 23-5-3 at home but fell about a thousand shy of a sellout. ... The Blues have scored three or more goals in their last 10 meetings against Tampa Bay, going 8-2.
Tuesday, 04 March 2014 23:27
Published in Sports
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St. Louis, MO (KTRS) - Tuesday is National Pancake Day and there is still time to snag a free short stack of flapjacks.
 
For the ninth consecutive year, IHOP is giving out the free pancakes. You can visit the restaurant until 10 tonight. IHOP is asking for a donation to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and Shriners Hospitals for Children, in exchange for the pancakes.
 
Since beginning the giveaway in 2006, IHOP has raised $13 million for charities.
 
Tuesday, 04 March 2014 16:25
Published in Local News
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