ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Foreign ministers from France, Germany and Poland are traveling to Ukraine tomorrow, hoping to push peace talks along. The U.S. also urged President Yanukovych to restart a dialogue with the opposition. But NPR's Michele Kelemen reports the U.S. and Europe seem to have few levers of influence.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary of State John Kerry appeared before reporters in Paris to restate his hope for a negotiated settlement to the crisis in Ukraine. He says President Viktor Yanukovych has a choice to make.
SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: The choice is between protecting the people that he serves, all of the people, and a choice for a compromise and dialogue versus violence and mayhem.
KELEMEN: Kerry says the answer should be clear, but the U.S. and its partners are still looking for ways to influence the Ukrainian leader, who seems determined to end weeks of protests in Kiev's main square.
KERRY: We are talking about the possibility of sanctions or other steps with our friends in Europe and elsewhere in order to try to create the environment for compromise.
KELEMEN: The U.S. needs to move quickly, though, says Adrian Karatnycky of the Atlantic Council. And it's not just President Yanukovych and his top aides who should face sanctions. Karatnycky says the U.S. should put pressure on wealthy and influential Ukrainians - the so-called oligarchs - who control much of the country's parliament and make clear to them that they will have their foreign bank accounts frozen if they don't help calm the situation in the country.
ADRIAN KARATNYCKY: Various delegations, both from the Senate and from the State Department and the ambassadors have been doing sort of back-door communications with these leading influentials in Ukraine, but it needs to be, I think, spiced up a little bit.
KELEMEN: Others have their doubts that this approach will work. Andrew Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says all this talk of sanctions is too little too late.
ANDREW WEISS: Sanctions are a good feel-good instrument. They'll show the outside world that the U.S. and the Europeans are doing something. But they're really not likely to affect events on the ground.
KELEMEN: The U.S. and Europe have little leverage, he says, while the Russians have plenty and are pushing in the opposite direction.
WEISS: They want the square cleared. They want the Yanukovych government to basically isolate itself and become completely dependent on Russia for external support.
KELEMEN: Weiss, who worked in the Clinton administration on Ukraine, says this should be a time for high-level U.S.-Russian contacts. But he says we're far from the days when the U.S., Russia and Ukraine came together 20 years ago to help Ukraine get rid of Soviet-era nuclear weapons.
WEISS: We're just generations past that at this point. There's so much bad blood on the part of the Russians, who view any U.S. role in their neighborhood as meddlesome. You know, it's really poisonous out there right now.
KELEMEN: But while Russia has sided with Yanukovych up to this point, Karatnycky of the Atlantic Council believes Moscow may have miscalculated. He says Russia should be worried that the crisis is spinning out of control and protesters are now taking over some local government offices in western Ukraine.
KARATNYCKY: Mr. Putin does not want to have a divided country at war on his border, a country that, for example, in the West, controls the levers of gas flow of his gas to central and southern Europe. I don't think he wants Ukraine to fall into economic decline because it'll be a very big bill. He broke it, he'll own it.
KELEMEN: But Karatnycky says that's not a message the U.S. could give to Putin. He says Washington will just have to hope that the Russians come to that conclusion themselves, and soon. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.