UPDATED [11:15 a.m.]
Russia Today broke the news that a leaked phone conversation between Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and EU Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton reveals that snipers who shot at protesters in Independence Square may have been hired by the opposition. The conversation includes Paet's remarks that some observers saw snipers shooting both police and protesters, and that it "discredits" the new Ukrainian government. "The file was reportedly uploaded to the web by officers of Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) loyal to ousted President Viktor Yanukovich who hacked Paet’s and Ashton’s phones," RT reports.
An early poll has Ukrainian billionaire Petro Poroshenko in the lead for the presidential election with 21.2% of the vote, followed by Vitali Klitschko and Yulia Tymoshenko. Elections are scheduled for May 25.
All talk: The U.S. and E.U. continue to negotiate and threaten to impose economic sanctions if Russia does not de-escalate by Thursday. Secretary John Kerry left Kiev Tuesday for Paris, where he met with the acting Ukrainian foreign minister as well as representatives from all five member states of the U.N. Security Council. Later on Wednesday, Kerry will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in person, and NATO and Russia will also hold talks in Brussels, Reuters reports. Russia has so far refused the U.S.'s demand that it pull troops out of Crimea.
The E.U. is pushing hard for a diplomatic solution to the crisis to avoid sanctions, which, as the New Republic's Danny Vinik writes, would have much bigger economic consequences for Europe than for the United States. Oliver Bullough explains why sanctions are also a last resort for Britain, home to a large number of very wealthy Russians. "If Europe wants to punish Putin, it has to persuade its citizens to forgo that cash," Bullough writes. Earlier Wednesday, however, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the E.U. is ready to give $15 billion (€11 million) to Ukraine.
Republicans may force Obama's hand on sanctions, The Guardian reports. "The Senate and House foreign relations committees have been working frantically over the last 48 hours to draft a bill to shore up Ukraine’s economy," Paul Lewis writes. TNR's Isaac Chotiner dissects the GOP's crush on Putin: "Conservatives don't just see the west and President Obama as weak; they also seem envious of Putin's bullying."
Russia tested an intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday, but the White House says it knew of the test in advance.
Pro-Russian men attacked a group of women in Simferopol who were peacefully protesting the Russian invasion, and the Kyiv Post's Christopher Miller captured it on video. Crimean Tatar women staged a similar peaceful protest earlier this week. "Police stand by and do nothing here on Karl Marx street as women thrown into street, pro-Russian group attacks journalists w/ cameras," Miller tweeted. Fifty Ukrainians injured in riots in Kiev are being airlifted to hospitals in Germany, Gazeta.rureports.
Videos of ethnic Russian women in Ukraine decrying the government's abuses against them circulated online Tuesday. But even if the videos are authentic (whether the subjects are actually Ukrainian citizens is disputed), as The Interpreter explains, "What’s most telling in the woman’s story is the foundation of most of her fears as she herself describes it: television, which is broadcast from Russia and contains reports that ethnic Russians are being attacked and everything is being destroyed." Ukraine's largest internet and television provider has suspended three major Russian news channels from broadcasting in the country because they are "aggressive propaganda," Echo Moscow reports.
Cyberattacks on Ukrainian news sites are rising, according to The New York Times. AP's Laura Mills tweeted that "cyber-Berkut" groups say they are hacking sites of "traitors to Ukraine" and uploading this photo.
Maidan Mirage: Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu echoed Putin's denial that any Russian troops are currently in Crimea. After being shown footage of men in uniform saying they were part of the Russian military, Shoigu said their statements were "complete nonsense." Yesterday, Putin claimed that troops in Crimea who appear to be Russian soldiers are, in fact, "local defense forces."
I have a recording of a lieutenant general of Russian army telling Ukrainians his troops there at Putin's request. Guess he was lying too.— Shaun Walker (@shaunwalker7) March 5, 2014
Hillary Clinton compared Putin to Hitler at a fundraiser in California last night. "Even if it were a good analogy, it is not one a prominent American statesperson—even one currently in the private sector—should make," writes TNR's Marc Tracy.
Dmitri Trenin welcomes us to Cold War II in Foreign Policy. "The post-Cold War may now be seen, in retrospect, as the inter-Cold War period," Trenin writes.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul told Gwen Ifill the Russian incursion is Putin's "counterpunch" to the disintegration of his plans for a Eurasian Economic Union and to Russian opposition in Kiev. "I don't think he knows where he's going with this in the end game, but it's a way to put on notice the people of Ukraine and the rest of Europe." Julia Ioffe's exit interview with McFaul in Sochi is online here.
Yesterday, Thomas Friedman said that expanding NATO, which includes former Soviet states Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, is "one of the dumbest things we’ve ever done and, of course, laid the groundwork for Putin’s rise." Today, the Ukrainian parliament drafted a bill that would resume the country's NATO accession process.
The Carnegie Moscow Center's Lilia Shevtsova wrote that the Russian invasion of Crimea "exemplifies" Putin's doctrine, which is "based on the premise that Russia can only exist as the center of the galaxy surrounded by the satellite-statelets." Shevtsova explained that the crisis could be taken as Russia's warning the west not to meddle in its sphere of influence. "Ukraine has long been Putin’s personal project."
A group on Russian social media site VKontakte has asked Russian men between 18 and 45 years old to volunteer to go to Ukraine to offer "moral support" and engage in peaceful protest rallies.
Russia Today has used anchor Abby Martin's anti-Russia outburst as an opportunity to show that the station does not dictate the opinions of its journalists. As TNR's Laura Bennett writes, "these days much of RT's programming is less a well-oiled Russian propaganda machine than a defensive, shapeshifting retort to the Western media."
Yanukovych remains a wanted man. Buzzfeed's Max Seddon posted a want ad from the Ukrainian Embassy of Toronto that states the president is wanted "dead or alive" for crimes against humanity. Seddon explains "Putin's paranoid vision" and why it has given him the upper hand in Ukraine: "[H]e treats it as a show. If the threat isn’t serious, then making it doesn’t entail any risk: You know all too well your opponent won’t up the stakes with something real. Invade a neighboring country, and what happens? The U.S. withdraws its Paralympic Games delegation."