It seemed that the situation in embattled Ukraine couldn’t get any more complicated, but it has.
Today, Crimea’s new pro-Russian regional government voted in favor of leaving the country for Russia and will put it to a regional vote in 10 days.
In response, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, called on Russia to “pull back its military into barracks” and to stop supporting “the illegitimate government of Crimea.”
Indeed, Prime Minister Yatsenyuk maintains that Crimea “was, is and will continue to be an integral part of Ukraine,” but if the last week has shown anything, it’s that Russian President Putin isn’t too concerned with what anyone else – no matter their status – has to say about Ukrainian/Russian relations.
President Obama weighed in on the matter himself. He said that any proposed referendum for Crimea to join Russia would violate the Ukrainian constitution and international law. He told reporters, “Any discussion on the future of Ukraine must include…the government of Ukraine.”
Secretary of State John Kerry spoke out on the issue as well. He told reporters that he spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and the two have agreed to continue talking “over the course of the next hours, the next days” to try to find a political solution to end the crisis in Ukraine. “As you have heard me say all week, the choices that Russia has made escalated this situation, and we believe Russia has the opportunity now … to de-escalate,” he said.
While things are moving quickly in Ukraine, the US has taken action itself. This morning, the Obama administration announced that it is imposing visa bans on officials and those that they believe played a role in undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty.
In addition, President Obama issued an executive order that provides legal basis for imposing additional sanctions against “individual or entities” who have undermined Ukraine’s regional integrity.
The executive order “is a flexible tool that will allow us to sanction those who are most directly involved in destabilizing Ukraine, including the military intervention in Crimea,” the White House statement said, adding that it “does not preclude further steps should the situation deteriorate.”
At the same time, EU leaders are meeting in Brussels to discuss what steps they will be taking in terms of sanctions. They have announced the decision to freeze the assets of former Ukrainian President Victor Yankukovych, who is still hiding out in Russia, as well as 17 of his closest aides on charges of embezzling funds.
The Official Journal of the European Union, which lists the body’s decisions, said that “all funds and economic resources belonging to, owned, held or controlled by” Mr. Yanukovych, two of his sons and his associates on European Union soil “shall be frozen.”
These are certainly steps in the right direction, but as to be expected Russia has fired back with threats of their own. Russian officials have suggested that they would reciprocate with their own anti-American sanctions.
The Russians and US and our European partners cannot, and will not, see eye to eye on this. To this end, Lavrov said, “There are many one-sided, half-hysterical evaluations in the media. I repeated this to John Kerry, who seems to understand that it doesn’t really help the flow of normal work. It’s impossible to work honestly under the threat of ultimatums and sanctions.”
But what Lavrov has conveniently left out is that it is Russia finds itself without Western partners, a G8 summit and the NATO-Russian Council because of their own actions. They have pushed us to the point of ultimatums and sanctions and I, for one, am relieved to see that the situation is being treated as such a high priority.
As news trickles in that Syrian President Assad has only turned over only a third of his chemical weapons supply and is about to miss another deadline, we need to continue to be vigilant in Ukraine as our diplomatically dealings have obviously failed elsewhere.
We know the Russians do not want to negotiate – they pride themselves on being men of action. Hopefully we continue to keep up the pressure and, if need be, act as men of action ourselves.