Russia showered promises on Crimea on Monday, sending its prime minister on a surprise visit there to promise quick funds to improve power supplies, water lines and education. In Kiev, Ukraine's acting president flatly rejected Russian pressure to turn Ukraine into a loose federation.
Russia's takeover of Crimea, a strategic Black Sea peninsula, and its attempts to compel constitutional changes in Ukraine have markedly raised tensions with the West and prompted fears that Moscow intends to invade other areas of Ukraine. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met for more than four hours of talks Sunday on defusing the tensions, but made no apparent progress.
From Kiev, Ukraine's new government issued a big `hands off!' to Moscow.
''Russia's leadership should deal with problems in the Russian Federation, and not with Ukraine's problems,'' Ukraine's acting president Oleksandr Turchinov said. ''It is Ukrainians that should dictate the form of the new constitution and how the country is structured.''
The concerns were stoked by the large numbers of troops Russia has placed along the Ukrainian border for what Moscow said were military exercises. On Monday, the Russian Defense Ministry said one of the battalions that had been sent to the Rostov border next to Ukraine was being withdrawn to its permanent base in the central Samara region, Russian news agencies said.
Alexander Rozmaznin, deputy chief of the Ukrainian armed forces command center, separately confirmed a drop in Russian troop numbers along the border.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who led a delegation of Cabinet ministers on a surprise visit to Crimea, pledged that Russia will quickly boost salaries and pensions there and pour in resources to improve education, health care and local infrastructure.
But making no mistake about Russia's view of the peninsula, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeted a photo of himself upon arrival in Crimea with the words ''Crimea is ours, and that's that.''
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March after a hastily called referendum held just two weeks after Russian forces had taken control the Black Sea region. Ukraine and the West have rejected the vote.
The annexation after Ukraine's pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February following months of protests. Russia claims the ouster was a coup and that the new Ukrainian authorities are nationalist fascists who will abuse Ukraine's large ethnic Russian population. The new government notes that Yanukovych himself left