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Violence in Ukraine deepens clash between East and West

MOSCOW — The two sides in what is developing into an East-West clash over Ukraine hardened their positions Wednesday, with Russian officials denouncing what they called a coup by right-wing extremists, even as the United States and Europe threatened to impose sanctions on those responsible for the violence that has erupted in the capital, Kiev, and spread to other cities.

The starkly divergent reactions underscored the deepening confrontation between Russia and the West over Ukraine’s fate, with each side accusing the other of interference and disputing even the facts of what was happening.

Expressing alarm at the escalating death toll, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President François Hollande of France blamed the security forces of President Viktor Yanukovych and made it clear that they supported a political transition that would allow Ukrainians to elect a new government. After meeting with Hollande in Paris, Merkel said the convulsion of violence had resulted from a “deliberate delaying tactic” by Yanukovych to avoid a compromise and preserve his place in power.

Russia, by contrast, vowed to use all its influence to support Ukraine’s government and joined Yanukovych in accusing his opponents of trying to seize power in what amounted to a coup. In one of its most pointed statements since the political crisis in Ukraine began, the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry even evoked the Brown Revolution that brought the Nazis to power in Germany in 1933.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei V. Lavrov, accused the West of “encouraging the opposition to act outside of the law.” “We don’t want to impose ourselves, as some of our overly zealous Western partners are trying to do,” he said in televised remarks from Kuwait.

A senior State Department official threw the meddling charge back at Moscow. “They have not been transparent about what they’ve been doing in Ukraine,” the official said. “I would put the question back to the Kremlin, ‘What would they support?’”

President Barack Obama, on a visit to Mexico, pointedly warned the Ukrainian military Wednesday to stay out of the political crisis that has ravaged the streets of Kiev and said the United States would hold the government responsible for further violence.

The foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland are scheduled to travel to Kiev on Thursday to press for a compromise, but given the deep divisions between Russia and the West there appeared to be little room for one.

—Steven Lee Myers, The New York Times

Massachusetts approves gas power plant with expiration date

For years, proponents of natural gas, including President Barack Obama, have promoted it as a “bridge fuel,” cleaner than coal but not clean enough to solve the climate problem. On Thursday, regulators in Massachusetts, in an unusual vote, put that theory into practice when it approved a new gas-fired power plant with only a limited life span.

In a hearing in Boston, a state siting board voted 5-0 to accept a proposal by a major New England environmental group and a company that wants to build the plant that would allow the plant to open, but require it to emit less and less carbon dioxide until it closed by 2050.

The Conservation Law Foundation and Footprint Power reached an agreement over a proposed $800 million plant to be built in Salem Harbor, at the site of a coal plant that will shut this year. The new plant would generate 630 megawatts — although in later years, it would either have to limit its hours of operation, install carbon capture or make investments in renewable energy to stay under the declining emissions cap.

The agreement for progressively lower output and a definite retirement date is a first, according to Jonathan Peress, a vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation. Gas cuts carbon dioxide emissions by about half compared to coal, but it is still far too high in carbon to meet the ultimate climate emissions requirements, he said.

“We want gas to continue to displace coal,” he said. “We just don’t want to worry that we’re going from heroin to methadone.”

The agreement was submitted to the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board this week.

The plant is scheduled to open in 2016 and would operate normally until 2026, when progressively stricter limits would be imposed. In 2049, its last year of operation, its limit would be about one-quarter what it was in 2016.

—Matthew L. Wald, The New York Times

Obama sidesteps GOP on budget

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s forthcoming budget proposal will not include an offer to slow the growth in Social Security payments, which was a gesture of bipartisanship that had been part of his strategy to reach a “grand bargain” with Republicans to cut the deficit and reduce spending.

White House officials said Thursday that since Republicans in Congress have shown no willingness to meet the president’s offer on entitlements by closing loopholes for corporations and wealthy Americans, the fiscal 2015 budget will not assume a path to an agreement that no longer appears to exist.

Instead, officials said the president will offer a spending blueprint in the next weeks that represents his vision for how to invest in the programs and services to increase opportunity for the middle class.

“There was a point in time when there was a little bit more optimism about the willingness of Republicans to budge on closing some tax loopholes,” said Josh Earnest, a White House deputy press secretary. “But over the course of the last year, they’ve refused to do that.”

“This reaffirms what has become all too apparent: The president has no interest in doing anything, even modest, to address our looming debt crisis,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio.

But Democrats who had opposed the president’s earlier willingness to compromise on the cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security payments hailed the decision.

“Middle-class Americans need retirement security they can depend on, and that starts with keeping Social Security’s promises,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.

—Michael D. Shear, The New York Times