Putin, Obama discuss solution to Ukraine crisis; Yanukovych urges nationwide referendum
MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin called President Barack Obama on Friday to discuss a diplomatic solution to the Ukrainian crisis, while Ukraine’s fugitive leader urged a nationwide referendum that would serve Moscow’s purpose of turning its neighbor into a loosely knit federation.
The statement from Viktor Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian president who fled to Russia last month after three months of protests, raised the threat of more unrest in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking eastern provinces, where many resent the new Ukrainian government.
Also Friday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin the Ukrainian military withdrawal from Crimea was complete. Ukrainian soldiers were seen carrying duffel bags and flags as they shipped out of the Black Sea peninsula that Russia has annexed.
While Yanukovych has practically no leverage in Ukraine, his statement clearly reflected the Kremlin’s focus on supporting separatist sentiments in eastern Ukraine.
The White House said that Putin called Obama Friday to discuss a U.S. proposal for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Ukraine, which U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presented to Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov earlier this week. Obama suggested that Russia put a concrete response in writing and the presidents agreed that Kerry and Lavrov would meet to discuss the next steps.
Mountain community waits in anguish to hear full death toll of Washington mudslide
ARLINGTON, Wash. — A mountainside community waited in anguish Friday to learn the full scope of the Washington state mudslide as authorities worked to identify remains and warned that they were unlikely to find anyone alive nearly a week after the disaster.
Leslie Zylstra said everybody in town knows someone who died, and the village was coming to grips with the fact that many of the missing will never turn up.
“The people know there’s no way anybody could have survived,” said Zylstra, who used to work in an Arlington hardware store. “They just want to have their loved ones, to bury their loved ones.”
Authorities delayed an announcement that they said would substantially raise the death toll to allow the Snohomish County medical examiner’s office to continue with identification efforts.
That job, along with the work of the exhausted searchers, was complicated by the sheer magnitude of the devastation from Saturday’s slide. Tons of earth and ambulance-sized boulders of clay smashed everything in their path, leaving unrecognizable remnants in their wake.
NJ Gov. Christie tries to separate himself from scandal that has consumed year
TRENTON, N.J. — Republican Gov. Chris Christie has spent the past few days putting down traffic cones to separate himself from scandal.
The usually garrulous governor and possible 2016 presidential contender had avoided news conferences and interviews for more than two months until Thursday, the day a report he commissioned cleared him of any involvement in the politically motivated plot to create huge traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge last year.
With investigations by federal prosecutors and state lawmakers looming, Christie also submitted to an interview Thursday with Diane Sawyer on ABC and another Friday night on Fox News.
And a vintage, defiant Christie re-emerged Friday at a Statehouse news conference in which he cracked jokes, jousted with reporters and acknowledged the toll of the scrutiny.
“There is no question this shakes your confidence,” he said. “If it doesn’t, you’re arrogant.”
By wire sources