- Associated Press - Thursday, February 27, 2014

Russian moves raise specter of wider confrontation; new Ukraine leaders vow to prevent breakup

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) - Masked gunmen stormed parliament in Ukraine’s strategic Crimea region Thursday as Russian fighter jets scrambled to patrol borders, the stirrings of a potentially dangerous confrontation reminiscent of Cold War brinksmanship.

While a newly formed government led by a pro-Western technocrat in Kiev pledged to prevent any national breakup, there were mixed signals in Moscow: Russia granted shelter to Ukraine’s fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych, while pledging to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

Yanukovych was said to be holed up in a luxury government retreat and to have scheduled a news conference Friday near the Ukrainian border.

As gunmen wearing unmarked camouflage uniforms erected a sign reading “Crimea is Russia” in the provincial capital, Ukraine’s interim prime minister declared the Black Sea territory “has been and will be a part of Ukraine.”

The escalating conflict sent Ukraine’s finances plummeting further, prompting Western leaders to prepare an emergency financial package.

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GOP derails Senate Dems’ bill boosting vets benefits amid disputes over spending, Iran

WASHINGTON (AP) - A divided Senate on Thursday derailed Democratic legislation that would have provided $21 billion for medical, education and job-training benefits for the nation’s veterans. The bill fell victim to election-year disputes over spending and fresh penalties against Iran.

Each party covets the allegiance of the country’s 22 million veterans and their families, and each party blamed the other for turning the effort into a chess match aimed at forcing politically embarrassing votes.

Republicans used a procedural move to block the bill after Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chided GOP lawmakers about their priorities.

“I personally, I have to say this honestly, have a hard time understanding how anyone could vote for tax breaks for billionaires, for millionaires, for large corporations and then say we don’t have the resources to protect our veterans,” said Sanders, the measure’s chief author.

Democrats noted that more than two dozen veterans groups supported the legislation. But Republicans said they still favor helping veterans while also wanting to be prudent about federal spending.

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Sen. Cruz blasts GOP leaders, refuses to endorse fellow Texan or others with party challengers

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