West imposes sanctions after Crimea threatens secession – USA TODAY
SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine — The West targeted sanctions Thursday at Russia after pro-Moscow figures in Crimea ordered a referendum that could make the Ukraine territory part of Russia.
The White House said visa restrictions will target an unidentified number of people and entities that the Obama administration accused of threatening Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial borders.
The European Union suspended talks with Russia on a wide-ranging economic pact and on a visa deal. EU leaders made the announcement at an emergency summit on Thursday and threatened further sanctions if Russia does not quickly engage in talks to end the crisis.
President Obama said the United States and its allies are “united in our determination to oppose actions in violation of international law.” He also stood up for the new government in Kiev that Russia calls illegitimate.
“Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine,” he said.
“This is our response to the disorder and lawlessness in Kiev,” said Sergei Shuvainikov, a member of the local Crimean legislature. “We will decide our future ourselves.”
The national parliament of Ukraine, seated in Kiev, reacted with outrage at the referendum and accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of engineering it to take over officially what he has already taken militarily. Referendum voters will choose between joining Russia or remaining part of Ukraine, but with enhanced local powers.
“This so-called referendum has no legal grounds at all,” said Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Ukraine’s president.
Yatsenyuk, who was voted in by the Ukraine parliament after the ouster of pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych, called on Russia to withdraw its troops and “start real talks and negotiations for the peaceful solution.”
Crimea was, is, and will be, an integral part of Ukraine,” he told reporters in Brussels, where he was meeting with European diplomats seeking a negotiated end to the crisis.
Many in Ukraine fear the referendum is designed as a pretext toward secession and the next step would be annexation by Russia, permitting the Russian military to establish a permanent presence in Crimea. Thousands of Russian troops are blocking access to Crimea.
Putin claims Yanukovych, who was granted asylum in Russia, is the legitimate president. But Ukraine has charged him with murder in the shooting deaths of more than 80 protesters. Interpol said it received a request for his arrest from Kiev.
Putin’s political supporters in Moscow said Crimea has the right to secede.
“This is the right thing to do,” said Ivan Melknikov, first vice speaker of the Russian Duma, or parliament.
The parliament in Crimea already enjoys a degree of autonomy under current Ukrainian law but has no right to hold a vote on succession under the constitution. Much of the politics in Crimea are being driven by pro-Russian figures and armed militias that have taken over offices, airfields and bases.
Anatoliy Boyko, 50, a security guard at a neighborhood supermarket in Sevastopol, said he would certainly vote to join the Russian Federation.
“Sevastopol was Russia, Sevastopol is Russia now and Sevastopol will always be Russia forever,” Boyko said, speaking in fluent English honed from 25 years as a merchant sailor. “Most of the people around here have the same opinion.”
Alexei Chaly, who claims to be mayor of Sevastopol though he has not been elected, said the port city will boycott Ukraine’s national elections on May 25 that were supposed to decide on a new national government to replace the one under Yanukovych.
“Sevastopol refused to take part in the elections that were imposed by the illegitimate authorities,” said Chaly, a Russian businessman who took control of Sevastopol’s administration after the Kiev-appointed mayor was forced out by protests.
Sevastopol is home to both Russia and Ukraine’s Black Sea fleets. Ukraine’s navy is in a standoff with Russian vessels blockading two Ukrainian warships in Sevastopol Bay.
“We are trying at all costs to prevent bloodshed and civilian casualties,” Ukraine’s acting naval commander Serhiy Hayduk said according to Interfax news agency.