US threatens fresh sanctions over Putin's Crimea treaty, Russia warns of consequences

The White House condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea

Moscow/Washington: Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told US secretary of state John Kerry that Western sanctions over the Crimea dispute were "unacceptable" and threatened consequences, Moscow said on Tuesday.

The two senior diplomats spoke by telephone hours after President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty in the Kremlin making Ukraine's Crimea peninsula part of Russia, despite an outcry from Kiev and the West.

The White House condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and said it was preparing a fresh round of sanctions in response to the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.

"More is coming," said White House spokesman Jay Carney, a day after the United States slapped sanctions on 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials, penalties that some critics said did not go far enough to get Moscow's attention.

Meanwhile, Putin said he did not plan to seize any other part of Ukraine, and Kerry later cautioned that any incursion into other parts of Ukraine would be an "egregious step" and a major challenge for the international community.

"(Crimea) republic residents made their democratic choice in line with the international law and the UN charter, which Russia accepts and respects," a Russian foreign ministry statement said, "while the sanctions introduced by the United States and the European Union are unacceptable and will not remain without consequences."

On Monday, the United States and the EU imposed sanctions on a handful of officials from Russia and Ukraine accused of involvement in Moscow's seizure of the Black Sea peninsula, most of whose 2 million residents are ethnic Russians.

Lavrov's remarks echoed comments earlier on Tuesday by Putin who said Western attempts to frighten Russia with sanctions would be viewed as an act of aggression, and that Moscow would retaliate.

Kerry reiterated Washington's position that the referendum and the takeover of Crimea were "illegal" and "unacceptable," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"We don't accept them and there will continue to be costs and consequences," she told a daily briefing. "We are continuing to prepare additional sanctions and we haven't taken options off the table."

Kerry told students at the state department that an incursion by Russia into eastern Ukraine would be "as egregious as any step I can think of that can be taken by a country in today's world, particularly by a country like Russia where so much is at stake.

"Now, I hope we don't get there," he added.

He likened the Crimea crisis to the lead-up to World War Two. "Today is egregious enough, when you raise this nationalistic fervor which could, in fact, infect in ways that could be very, very dangerous," he said.

"All you have to do is go back and read in history of the lead-up to World War Two and the passions that were released with that kind of nationalistic fervor," he added.

He referred to the Soviet Union's meddling in Czechoslovakia and Poland.

"There's a tough history of things like Czechoslovakia in 1968 where the alleged rationale for going into the country was to protect the people in it," he said. "You can ask the Poles how they felt being 'protected' for all those years."

Russian forces took control of the Black Sea peninsula in late February following the ouster of Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovich by protests, sparked by his decision to spurn a trade deal with the European Union and seek closer ties to Russia.

People in Crimea voted overwhelmingly in last weekend's referendum to join Russia.

Obama speaks to Angela Merkel

As the United States and European allies seek coordinated responses to pressure Russia, President Barack Obama and the leaders of the other Group of Seven (G7) economies scheduled a meeting at The Hague next week to discuss Ukraine on the fringes of an already scheduled nuclear security summit.

The White House said in a statement the G7 meeting will focus on further steps that the grouping may take to respond to developments and to support Ukraine.

Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke by phone about Ukraine and a White House statement said both leaders agreed to stress to Putin that a diplomatic path remains for resolving the crisis.

They agreed it is vital to send international monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the United Nations to southern and eastern Ukraine immediately, the White House said. Ukraine's prime minister has expressed fears Russia might now seek to move into eastern Ukraine.

Leaders of the G7 — representing the United States, Germany, Britain, Italy, France, Canada and Japan — have already suspended preparations for a June meeting in Sochi, Russia, at which Putin would have served as the host.

The Sochi summit is now deemed unlikely to take place and there is even speculation the G7 could move to expel Russia from the G8 after Putin signed a treaty making Crimea part of Russia, an outcome that Washington condemned and said would never be accepted as legal.

Carney, briefing reporters at the White House, strongly hinted that subsequent rounds of sanctions in response to the Crimea move could include some of the powerful and wealthy oligarchs who have close ties to Putin. The first round of sanctions on Monday hit two Putin aides.

"I think anyone who understands how the Russian system of governance works and who has influence in that system understands the kind of person that we're talking about here, and the fact that they have substantial assets, not just in Russia, but abroad," he said.

Putin's refusal to back down from his move on Crimea has presented Obama with another difficult foreign policy challenge, trying to reason with a Russian leader who seems determined to test the boundaries of his regional influence.

While Washington has vowed to pursue the diplomatic option over Ukraine, it has a collective defense agreement with members of NATO, including Russia's regional neighbors such as Poland and Lithuania, which Vice President Joe Biden is visiting this week.

Under Article 5 of the NATO charter, members agree that an armed attack against one or more of their members in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.

"President Obama and I view Article 5 as a solemn commitment not only for our time, but for all time. We take it deadly serious and our commitment is absolutely unwavering and unshakeable," Biden said in Warsaw.

The Obama administration's response to the crisis has had its share of critics, who say they believe the White House needs to be more aggressive.

Representative Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the US House of Representatives, said Obama should dramatically expand the number of Russians to receive sanctions and reassess US policy toward Russia.

"Next week, the G7 leaders should decide to revoke Russia's membership in the G8. The US should assess what military support we can provide Ukraine and the US must work in concert with its NATO allies to reassure other countries threatened by Russia," Cantor said.

Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham noted that the head of Transnistria, the breakaway region of Moldova, had called for the region to be annexed by Russia.

"Through its weak and inadequate response to President Putin's land grab in Ukraine, the West is in danger of acquiescing to Russian efforts to redraw the borders of Europe through military force," they said in a statement.

The White House rejects the criticism that it is not doing enough, saying that Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, had a reputation for use of military force and yet that did not stop Putin from a military incursion into neighboring Georgia in 2008.

( Source : Reuters/AFP )
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