April 14, 2014, 01:58 pm
As Ukraine tensions escalate, Obama to call Putin 'very soon'
By Justin Sink
President Obama plans to call Russian president Vladimir Putin about the escalating crisis in Ukraine "very soon," and possibly in the coming hours, the White House said Monday.
Press secretary Jay Carney slammed Russia for “clearly provocative actions” in Ukraine and said it is consulting with European allies about the “next steps” to take in response to the crisis. Obama has already spoken to French President François Hollande.
"I can assure you that Russia's further provocations and transgressions will come with a cost," Carney said.
The White House said it was "assessing" Russia’s actions and accused the Kremlin of unacceptable behavior both in Ukraine and with the military buildup across the border.
Heavily armed pro-Russia militias seized government buildings and reportedly launched attacks on local police stations over the weekend, prompting new concern about the stability of the former Soviet republic.
Carney accused the Russian military of taking "provocative and unprofessional" actions when a warplane buzzed a U.S. navy ship in the region. The White House also acknowledged that CIA director John Brennan was in Kiev over the weekend for meetings with Ukrainian officials.
But the White House spokesman stopped short of saying that Russia's attempts at destabilization would trigger the administration to move ahead with broader sanctions.
Carney praised the government in Kiev for "professionalism and restraint" after its acting president said he was open to the possibility of a referendum to provide greater autonomy to the country's ethnically divided regions.
Oleksandr Turchynov told parliamentary leaders he was open to holding a constitutional referendum alongside next month's presidential elections that would weaken the control of Kiev over the separate regions within the former Soviet republic.
"I am certain that a large majority of Ukrainians at this referendum, which, when the parliament decides so, could be held alongside the presidential election, will favor an indivisible, independent, democratic and unified Ukraine," Turchynov said, according to The Wall Street Journal. "Any changes to the constitution demand wide discussion in all the regions of Ukraine."
The comments underscored the political quandary facing Turchynov and other leaders in Kiev, who are grappling with increasingly aggressive pro-Russian forces in the country's eastern region.
The Ukrainian military is reluctant to intervene, fearful of sparking an all-out civil war or an invasion by Russian forces.
Over the weekend, Turchynov warned that the Ukrainian military would conduct "anti-terrorism" operations if the militants did not disperse by Monday morning. But that deadline passed without action from Ukrainian forces — or a retreat by the pro-Russian militias.
Turchynov also lobbied United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to send U.N. peacekeeping troops to the region in a phone call on Monday. That's unlikely to happen, however, because Russia holds veto power on the Security Council.
On Monday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned the U.S. was ready to impose more sanctions on Russia and separatist leaders within Ukraine, as he moved to sign a $1 billion loan guarantee intended to stabilize the country.
“Working with our allies, we are fully prepared to impose additional significant sanctions on Russia as it continues to escalate the situation in Ukraine, including apparently through support to a concerted campaign by armed militants in eastern Ukraine,” Lew said, according to Bloomberg.
The United States and European partners have already targeted some Ukrainian and Russian officials for economic and travel sanctions after the Kremlin moved to seize the ethnically Russian Crimean peninsula earlier this year.
President Obama has vowed broader sectoral sanctions against Moscow if the Russian incursion continues further into Ukraine.