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KIEV, Ukraine — In a demonstration of support for Ukraine’s fledgling government and a new swipe at Russia, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Kiev on Tuesday with an offer of $1 billion in a U.S. loan guarantee and pledges of technical assistance.
Trudging through a damp mist, Mr. Kerry stopped first for an emotional visit to improvised memorials where protesters were gunned down last month as they voiced opposition to what was then Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin government.
Mr. Kerry placed a lighted candle at one of the shrines, which were draped with flowers and photographs of some of the victims, met with religious leaders, and listened to Ukrainians who beseeched him for help.
“We hope Russian troops will leave Crimea, and we also hope for your assistance,” a Ukrainian woman told Mr. Kerry as he walked along Instytutska Street.
“We are trying very hard,” Mr. Kerry responded. “We hope Russia will respect the election that you have.”
But there was no indication that Russia was prepared to reverse its intervention in Crimea, and Mr. Kerry later warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin might be preparing to expand the scope of his country’s military operation into eastern Ukraine.
“It is clear that Russia has been working hard to create a pretext for being able to invade further,” Mr. Kerry said at a news conference at the U.S. Embassy.
Mr. Putin, meanwhile, offered a vigorous defense of Russian intervention, saying the pro-Russian former government in Kiev was illegally overthrown and that the man he regards as Ukraine’s legitimate president asked him for military help.
But he also asserted that the troops wearing unmarked uniforms in Crimea are local self-defense groups — not Russian forces, as observers on the scene have said.
Mr. Kerry, however, took issue with Mr. Putin’s version of events.
“It is not appropriate to invade a country and at the end of a barrel of a gun dictate what you are trying to achieve,” Mr. Kerry said. “That is not 21st-century, G-8, major-nation behavior.”
The centerpiece of the U.S. aid package is the $1 billion loan guarantee intended to cushion Ukrainian households as the new government undertakes wrenching economic changes that are expected to be demanded by the International Monetary Fund and contends with the reduction of energy subsidies from Russia, which has challenged the new government’s legitimacy.
The U.S.-backed loan guarantee is contingent on backing from the Congress.
The United States also will send technical experts to help Ukraine’s national bank and Finance Ministry, provide advice on fighting corruption and train election monitors to help establish the legitimacy of Ukraine’s coming election.
U.S. officials are offering help in recovering “stolen assets,” an allusion to the billions of dollars reported to have been spirited out of Ukraine by former President Viktor Yanukovych and powerful businessmen.
Economic sanctions to punish Russia for its military intervention in Crimea are likely within days, according to a senior State Department official.
Mr. Kerry observed, “Here in the streets today I didn’t see anybody who feels threatened, except for the potential of an invasion by Russia.” He expressed hope that Mr. Putin “would step back and listen carefully that we would like to see this de-escalated.”
Early Tuesday, in a sign that Mr. Putin might be trying to defuse tensions, or that he has accomplished what he wants in Crimea, the Russian leader ordered troops conducting military exercises near Ukraine in Western Russia to return to their bases, according to Russian news agencies.
There were several reports that a pro-Russian fighter, part of a group that had taken control of an air base in Crimea, fired a warning shot into the air Tuesday as Ukrainian military personnel returned to demand their jobs back at the Belbek air base.
A Ukrainian Defense Ministry official alleged that Russia’s Black Sea Fleet commander had set a deadline of 5 a.m. Tuesday — 10 p.m. Monday Eastern time — for Ukrainian forces to capitulate, according to the Interfax-Ukrainian news agency.
There were no immediate reports of activity after the deadline.
Russian Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov said Tuesday that most Ukrainian military units on the Crimean peninsula had surrendered and pledged allegiance to his pro-Russian government, and that local officials were working to speed up a referendum on independence.
“There is no safety threat to human life in Crimea,” Mr. Aksyonov said.
In Kiev, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry denounced the assertion of defections. “This information is false,” the ministry said. “All the Ukrainian military units, formations, and warships stay in their permanent locations. Ukraine’s military controls the territories of their military posts.”
Mr. Kerry met Ukraine’s interim leaders, including Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and acting President Oleksandr V. Turchynov.