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Obama urges NATO to back Ukraine

– Calling it a global “moment of testing,” President Barack Obama appealed to Europeans on Wednesday to recommit to the war-won ideals of freedom and human dignity, declaring that people voicing those values will ultimately triumph in Ukraine.

Painting a historical arc across the major global clashes of the last century and beyond, Obama said young people born today come into a world more devoid of conflict and replete with freedom than at any time in history – even if that providence isn’t fully appreciated. He urged the 28-nation NATO alliance to make good on their commitments to the collective security that has fostered prosperity in the decades since the Cold War concluded.

Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, backed that up by promising an increase in ground and naval forces in Eastern Europe. The specifics of the NATO plan were still being finalized, including the size of the force increase. Rather than significantly boosting U.S. military presence in the region, the move seemed aimed instead at showing symbolic support for NATO members near Russia’s borders.

6 detained officers released, 5 remain

Six Ukrainian military officers detained by Russian troops in Crimea have been released and were being evacuated Wednesday, but five still remained in custody.

Russian forces have stormed one Ukrainian military base after another in the Black Sea peninsula, which was annexed by Russia after residents voted March 16 to leave Ukraine.

Five more serviceman, including a colonel, were still being detained, Defense Ministry spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov said. He spoke to the colonel Wednesday and said the officer was coming under sustained pressure to switch over and work for the Russians.

Foreign policy hits lowest US approval

Foreign policy used to stand out as a not-so-bleak spot in the public’s waning assessment of Barack Obama. Not anymore, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

Majorities say they dislike Obama’s handling of the Ukraine situation (57 percent) and his interactions with Russia (54 percent). On international relations overall, he’s hit a new low – just 40 percent approval.

However, close to 9 out of 10 Americans support sanctions as a response to Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, the poll indicates. About half of that group says the U.S. sanctions so far are about right, while the other half wants to see them strengthened.

Overall disapproval of the job Obama is doing ticked up to 59 percent – a record high for his presidency – in the poll released Wednesday.

Russia may direct $2.8 billion in aid

Russia may direct at least $2.8 billion of emergency budget reserves this year to subsidize Crimea, according to two people with knowledge of the plans.

The government estimates 100 billion rubles to 130 billion rubles are needed to support Crimea and the port city of Sevastopol, home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, the people said, asking not be identified as planning is confidential. The amount may swell to 260 billion rubles to raise state pensions and salaries to Russian levels, one of the people said.

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