WASHINGTON: The U.S warned Monday that it was planning a string of economic and diplomatic sanctions to “isolate” Russia if it did not reverse its incursion into Ukraine.
The talk of sanctions came as Russian forces seized control of the border guard checkpoint on the Ukrainian side of the ferry crossing between Russia and Crimea, and began bringing in truckloads of soldiers by ferry, Ukrainian border guards said.
Russians have been surrounding the ferry terminal for days but until Monday night had not taken control of Ukraine’s border guard station.
“Russia is on the wrong side of history,” President Barack Obama said, declaring that the world was all but united in viewing Moscow’s dispatch of troops to Crimea as a violation of international law.
Ukraine’s ousted leader Viktor Yanukovich has sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin requesting that he use the Russian military to restore law and order in Ukraine, Moscow’s U.N. envoy said Monday.
“Under the influence of Western countries, there are open acts of terror and violence,” Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin quoted the letter from Yanukovich to Putin in an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council.
“People are being persecuted for language and political reasons,” he quoted the letter as saying. “So in this regard I would call on the president of Russia, Mr. Putin, asking him to use the armed forces of the Russian Federation to establish legitimacy, peace, law and order, stability and defending the people of Ukraine.”
Churkin held up a copy of the letter for council members to see.
A day before Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Kiev to show U.S. backing for Ukraine’s right to chart its own future, Washington expanded on the “costs” Russia may have to pay for its action.
It pointed to the sharp decline of the ruble as evidence Russia was already paying a heavy price and Obama asked Congress to put an economic support package for Ukraine on the top of its agenda. “What cannot be done is for Russia, with impunity, to put its soldiers on the ground and violate basic principles that are recognized around the world,” Obama said. “What we are also indicating to the Russians is that if, in fact, they continue on the current trajectory that they’re on, that we are examining a whole series of steps – economic, diplomatic – that will isolate Russia.”
Obama said that after his round of calls to European leaders he was convinced the world was “largely united” in the belief that Russia had violated Ukraine’s territorial integrity and international law.
Possible options include visa bans or asset freezes on members of Russia’s political and financial elite. Steps could also be taken against some Russian financial institutions.
Obama hinted that after already suspending cooperation with Russia on G-8 matters, U.S. partners would boycott the group’s summit in the Russian resort of Sochi in June.
As Russia appeared to tighten its grip on the Crimea peninsula, the State Department warned any Russian attack on Ukrainian forces in the southern region would be a “dangerous” escalation.
Kerry was due to leave Washington later Monday to travel to Kiev in a show of support for the interim leadership which took over from ousted president Viktor Yanukovych.
In his first public appearance for nearly a week, Putin flew to watch military maneuvers in western Russia in what appeared as a show of strength.
Russia’s Black Sea fleet denied reports that it had given Ukrainian forces in Crimea an ultimatum to surrender by early Tuesday or face a military assault, Interfax news agency said after earlier reporting such a threat.
The U.S. State Department said if true, an ultimatum would be a dangerous escalation of the crisis.
Ukraine’s acting president said Russia’s military presence in Crimea was growing, and Ukrainian officials said Russia was building up armor on its side of a narrow stretch of water closest to Crimea after Putin declared over the weekend he had the right to invade to protect Russian interests and citizens.
On the ground in Perevalnoye, halfway between the Crimean capital of Simferopol and the Black Sea, hundreds of Russian troops in trucks and armored vehicles – without national insignia on their uniforms – were surrounding two military compounds, confining Ukrainian soldiers, who have refused to surrender, as virtual prisoners.
Ukraine called up reservists Sunday after Putin’s action provoked what British Foreign Secretary William Hague called “the biggest crisis in Europe in the21st century.”
NATO allies Tuesday will hold a second round of emergency talks on the Ukraine crisis following a request from Poland, the alliance said.