MOSCOW -- Russian President Vladimir Putin turned up the heat on Ukraine Wednesday by threatening to demand advance payment for gas supplies, a move designed to exert economic pressure as Ukraine confronts possible bankruptcy, a mutiny by pro-Russian separatists in the east and a Russian military buildup across the border.
NATO's top commander in Europe warned the alliance could respond to the Russian military threat against Ukraine by deploying U.S. troops to Eastern Europe, but Putin's latest tactics suggest he may be aiming to secure Russia's clout with its neighbour without invading.
Speaking at a cabinet session, the Russian leader voiced hope diplomatic efforts to ease the Ukrainian crisis would yield "positive results," an apparent reference to talks set for next week that will bring together the U.S., the European Union, Russia and Ukraine for the first time.
Russia wants the talks to focus on a road map for Ukraine that would include constitutional reforms to turn it into a federation and guarantee its neutral status. Those demands reflect the Kremlin's hope of retaining influence over its neighbour and ensuring it does not join NATO. Ukraine has responded by saying it will not be dictated by Russia.
-- The Associated Press