FoxNews on March 12, 2014, reported that the Obama administration and Congress are moving on several fronts to try and calm the Ukraine stand-off — and pressure Russia to cooperate — ahead of a looming Crimea referendum which could further inflame the crisis. Excerpts below:
President Obama, in a diplomatic snub at Russia, met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk at the White House.
Sitting side by side in the Oval Office with Yatsenyuk, Obama said he hoped last-ditch diplomatic efforts might lead to a “rethinking” of Sunday’s referendum on whether Crimea should join Russia. If the vote does occur, Obama said, “We will not recognize any referendum that goes forward.”
He warned that Russia could face “costs” and blasted the “slapdash election” as one being done at “the barrel of a gun.”
Yatsenyuk said Ukraine will “never surrender” in the fight over its territory. “Ukraine is and will be part of the Western world,” Yatsenyuk said in English.
A bipartisan group of senators also said they plan to travel to Ukraine on March 13 to meet with members of the interim government.
But, applying a carrot-and-stick approach, the U.S. is both courting and pressuring Russia.
“Nothing justifies a military intervention that the world has witnessed,” Kerry told a House panel on March 12 morning.
Kerry argued that there are ways to resolve the stand-off and protect Russia’s interests in the region. He added: “We will do what we have to do if Russia cannot find a way to make the right choices here.”
The leaders of the G7 nations, including the United States, said in a statement that any attempt by Russia to change the status of Crimea would be a violation of international law and a referendum to annex Crimea “would have no legal effect.”
“Given the lack of adequate preparation and the intimidating presence of Russian troops, it would also be a deeply flawed process which would have no moral force. For all these reasons, we would not recognize the outcome,” the statement said. The statement was from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States, along with the European Council and the European Commission.
The American Congress is weighing some of the most significant sanctions on Russia since the end of the Cold War.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 12 advanced sanctions legislation that would pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull Russian troops out of Crimea.
It authorizes $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine’s new government and allows the Obama administration to impose economic penalties on Russian officials responsible for the intervention in Crimea or culpable of gross corruption. All Democrats supported the measure. Republican objections include how the U.S. will pay for the loan guarantees and provisions in the bill expanding the lending authority of the International Monetary Fund.
House Republicans are pushing their own bill.
“Putin has miscalculated by playing a game of Russian roulette with the international community, but we refuse to blink, and will never accept this violation of international law,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, who introduced the legislation. “Ukraine is confronting a menacing threat challenging its very existence and in their hour of need, we firmly stand with the Ukrainian people to choose their own destiny without Russian interference.”
Putin and other Russian officials have threatened retaliation for any Western punishment over Russia’s occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. But with the U.S. and its European allies ruling out military options, a broad consensus has emerged among the Obama administration and Democratic and Republican lawmakers that sanctions are the strongest option available.
Tensions are increasing ahead of the Russian-backed referendum this weekend in Crimea, where voters may declare the territory independent and propose becoming a Russian state. The U.S. and the European Union have both declared the vote as illegitimate.
The Associated Press contributed to this report