Obama to Putin: US readying 'additional costs' over Crimea
Washington (AFP) - President Barack Obama hinted at possible additional sanctions on Russia, warning his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that the United States and its allies would "never" recognize Crimea's breakaway vote Sunday.
In a telephone call, Obama told Putin that the vote that found 95.5 percent of ballots in favor of the Crimean Peninsula leaving Ukraine to rejoin Russia violated the Ukrainian constitution.
"President Obama emphasized that the Crimean 'referendum,' which violates the Ukrainian constitution and occurred under duress of Russian military intervention, would never be recognized by the United States and the international community," the White House said in a statement.
The vote would mark the most radical redrawing of the map of Europe since Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia.
Joining international condemnation from other world capitals, Obama warned "Russia's actions were in violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and that, in coordination with our European partners, we are prepared to impose additional costs on Russia for its actions."
The Kremlin said earlier that the call was initiated by the American side, as relations between Russia and the United States have plunged to their lowest point since the Cold War.
Putin told Obama that the referendum was fully legal, "in line with the norms of international law and the UN charter."
Ukraine's new pro-European leaders and the West have branded the referendum "illegal" because the strategic Black Sea region has been under de facto control of Russian forces since the start of the month.
White House spokesman Jay Carney earlier said Russia had spurned outreach to Ukraine and calls for international monitoring, instead escalating its military intervention into Crimea and initiating military exercises on Ukraine's eastern border.
He called Russia's actions "dangerous and destabilizing."
Obama stressed that the crisis could still be solved diplomatically, but not so long as "Russian military forces continue their incursions into Ukrainian territory" and conduct large-scale military exercises along the border with Ukraine, according to the White House.
Russia should support the "immediate" deployment of international monitors to "help prevent acts of violence by any groups," it added.
- Imminent action? -
The White House condemnation followed another round of talks earlier between US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
In a phone call with Lavrov, Kerry urged Moscow to pull back Russian forces to their bases in Crimea in exchange for constitutional reforms to protect minority rights.
A senior State Department official said Kerry "made clear that this crisis can only be resolved politically and that as Ukrainians take the necessary political measures going forward, Russia must reciprocate by pulling forces back to base, and addressing the tensions and concerns about military engagement."
Kerry also raised concerns about Russian military activity in Kherson Oblast, the Ukrainian province just north of Crimea, and "continuing provocations" in the eastern cities in Ukraine, the official said.
Kerry had on Friday already warned of sanctions against Russia if the referendum went ahead, making it likely that some form of action is now imminent.
Last week, the United States imposed visa bans targeting Russians and Ukrainians blamed for threatening the sovereignty or territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Obama also signed an executive order paving the way for economic sanctions against individuals or entities in Russia.
The order sets broad criteria, and could target those accused of usurping peace in Ukraine or Russian officials seeking to impose control over any part of the country.
US sanctions are expected to be mirrored by several Western powers, with the European Union readying a package of measures including visa bans and asset freezes.
Ukraine signed up to a partnership deal with NATO in 1997 after the fall of communism and the end of the Soviet Union but it is not a full member and so does not come under its protective umbrella.
Because it is not a member, Ukraine cannot invoke the alliance treaty's powerful Article 5, under which an attack against one member is considered an attack against all.