News / Europe

Putin Defies West, Declares Crimea Independent

US Freezes Russians' Assets As Ukraine Crisis Deepensi
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Luis Ramirez
March 17, 2014 11:05 PM
President Obama has imposed sanctions against seven Russian officials and four Ukrainians who supported Sunday's Russian-sponsored referendum that called for Crimea to secede from Ukraine. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Related report by Luis Ramirez, "U.S. Freezes Russians' Assets as Ukraine Crisis Deepens"
VOA News
President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Monday recognizing Crimea as a sovereign state after the Ukrainian region's pro-Russian leaders declared it independent and applied to join Russia following a controversial referendum on Sunday.

The decree posted on the Kremlin's website appeared to be a first step toward integrating Crimea into the Russian Federation.

The decree, which took effect immediately, says Moscow's recognition of Crimea as an independent state is based on “the will of the people of Crimea.”
         
Crimea's leaders declared a 97 percent result in favor of seceding from Ukraine in a vote condemned as illegal by Kyiv and the West. The Crimean parliament formally proposed that Russia “admit the Republic of Crimea as a new subject with the status of a republic.”

Putin will address the issue at a special joint session of the Russian parliament on Tuesday.

US imposes sanctions

Hours earlier, President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on key individuals Washington deems responsible for the Crimea referendum which has been widely viewed as having been orchestrated from Moscow.

Speaking at the White House, Obama announced that he ordered sanctions against 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials, including two top advisers to Russia's President Vladimir Putin, in addition to ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. All will be subject to asset freezes.

In an executive order issued earlier, Obama said that the policies and actions of the Russian Federation have been found to “undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine; threaten its peace, security, stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity; and contribute to the misappropriation of its assets, and thereby constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

Watch the president's announcement:

Obama: 'US Is Mobilizing to Isolate Russia'i
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March 17, 2014 3:25 PM
Announcing that the U.S. and its allies are mobilizing to isolate Russia, President Barack Obama has imposed sanctions on key individuals Washington deems responsible for the current crisis in Ukraine, following a Moscow-backed referendum in Crimea on the peninsula's secession from the country.

He said Washington stands ready to impose further sanctions if necessary, if Russia chooses to escalate the situation.

Obama also pledged "unwavering" U.S. support for Ukraine, following Crimea's moves toward joining the Russian Federation.

President Obama's Steps to Support Ukraine and Isolate Russia

  • Imposing sanctions on those responsible for undermining Ukraine's government and territorial integrity
  • Expanding scope of sanctions to include Russian officials
  • Continuing consultations with European partners, who imposed their own sanctions
  • Warned Russia that continued provocations in Crimea will result in further isolation
  • Sending US Vice President Joe Biden to Europe to meet with allies
  • President Obama traveling to Europe for talks next week
Obama said Vice President Joe Biden leaves for Europe later Monday to discuss the situation with NATO allies. The president himself is slated to to go Europe next week.

The speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament, Valentina Matviyenko, herself a target of the U.S.-imposed sanctions, has denounced them as "political blackmail."

US sanctions against Putin not ruled out

The Obama administration does not rule out any Russian officials as possible future targets for U.S. sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, a White House spokesman said on Monday when asked whether Russian President Vladimir Putin could later be subject to punitive measures.

”The authority exists to apply sanctions to a variety of individuals and entities,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. “We're not going to rule out individuals or rule out actions.”
       
Putin himself was not named among the group of 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials against whom U.S. sanctions were imposed.

EU measures

Separately, European Union foreign ministers have agreed to impose sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, on 21 officals from Russia and Ukraine.

After a meeting lasting around three hours, the EU's 28 foreign ministers quickly reached agreement on the list of those to be sanctioned for their part in Russia's seizure of Crimea and Sunday's referendum to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.

In a related move, the EU has begun discussing the need to reduce its reliance on Russian energy, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Monday.

”We have started today discussing the longer term, the need to reduce European dependence on Russian energy over many years to come,” Hague said on Sky News after a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels.

Hague also said more names could be added to the sanctions list of 21 Russians and Ukrainians imposed by the EU. He said the scope of future sanctions would depend on how Russia reacted to Crimea's application to join Russia following Sunday's referendum.
 
In addition to responses from the U.S. and the EU, NATO released a statement Monday calling the Crimea referendum "illegal and illegitimate." It said the vote violates the Ukrainian constitution and international law, and added that the circumstances under which the referendum was held were "deeply flawed and therefore unacceptable."

In New York, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday voiced "deep disappointment" with Sunday's secession vote.  A spokesman said Ban, who has sought to resolve the crisis, fears the vote will further heighten tensions between Kyiv and Moscow.

Kyiv reacts
 
In Kyiv, Ukraine's interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk - speaking at an emergency cabinet meeting - called the Moscow-backed Crimea vote "a circus spectacle" directed at gunpoint by Russia.
 
Ukraine's parliament endorsed on Monday a plan to mobilize 40,000 reservists to counter Russia's "blatant aggression" in  Crimea. Some 20,000 of the country's national guard troops have also been mobilized.

Also on Monday, Ukraine recalled its ambassador to Russia for consultations.

”In connection with the situation in Crimea and the necessity of discussing some of its international aspects, the Ukrainian side is recalling its ambassador to the Russian Federation...," the Foreign Ministry in Kyiv said.

Ukraine, EU to sign pact

Ukraine will sign an agreement on closer political cooperation with the European Union on Friday, leaving the signing of a more far-reaching trade accord for later, the EU said on Monday.

EU foreign ministers said in a statement after meeting in Brussels that they looked forward to the signing of the political provisions of the so-called association agreement that Ukraine had negotiated with the 28-nation EU, on March 21.

The agreement is expected to be signed on the sidelines of an EU summit being held in Brussels that day.
       
Now ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych turned his back on signing the association agreement in favour of closer ties with Moscow last November, prompting months of street protests that eventually led to his fleeing the country.

Russia rejects UN report

Russia rejected as biased on Monday an assessment by a United Nations official who questioned accusations that Ukraine's Russian-speaking population faced systematic human rights abuses.

The Russian Foreign Ministry statement criticized U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic who said last week there had been violations against ethnic Russians in Ukraine but said there was no evidence they were “widespread or systematic.”

The biased, prejudiced and unobjective assessment of I. Simonovic on the human rights situation in the country calls forth surprise and confusion,” said the ministry in a statement.

Russia has effectively seized control of Ukraine's broadly Russian-speaking Crimea region. There are also large Russian-speaking populations in the east of the country.

The statement also criticized Simonovic for a statement of concern over the state of human rights for ethnic Tatars in Crimea.

Russia has been justifying its incursion into Crimea as necessary to protect the rights of ethnic Russians living on the peninsula.

Reactions in Ukraine's capital

Thousands of Ukrainians gathered in central Kyiv Sunday to voice opposition to the referendum and what the perceive as Moscow's moves to divide the Ukraine.

But the mood was somber as many Ukrainians feel helpless against Russia's might and military superiority, many fearing a further escalation of tensions.

Irina, a restaurant manager who only gave her first name, said Crimea's fate likely was already decided in Moscow.

She said none of this was right. This could have been done in a nice way, in an honest way, she said. This could have been done in a constitutionally correct way. And it seems to me, she said, everyone would have agreed to that.

Moscow claims it is protecting ethnic Russians from persecution by Ukrainian “extremists” who it says illegitimately came to power after months of anti-government protests.

Another Kyiv resident, Ira, who also only gave her first name, said she had nothing against Russians.

She said she loves and respects the Russian people as much as Ukrainians, but not their government. She expressed hope that everything ends well, everyone becomes united, and that Crimea remains with Ukraine.

VOA's Al Pessin contributed to this report from London, Daniel Schearf from Kyiv. Some reporting by Reuters.

  • A pro-Russian crowd watches a live broadcast of Russian President Vladimir Putin's speech on Crimea, in Sevastopol, Crimea, Ukraine, March 18, 2014. 
  • City council workers clear a barricade on a road leading to Kyiv's Independence Square, Ukraine, March 18, 2014. 
  • An elderly woman holds a calendar depicting Soviet leader Josef Stalin while watching a broadcast of Russian President Vladimir Putin's speech on Crimea, as thousands of pro-Russian people gathered to watch the address, in Sevastopol, Crimea, Ukraine, March 18, 2014.



  • Russia's President Vladimir Putin addresses the Federation Council in Moscow's Kremlin, Russia, March 18, 2014. 
  • Police look at portraits of missing political activists and journalists that protesters pasted on the gate of the Crimean Interior Ministry in Simferopol, March 18, 2014.
  • Members of a "Maidan" self-defense battalion take part in a training exercise at a Ukrainian Interior Ministry base near Kyiv, March 17, 2014.
  • A Ukrainian serviceman guards a checkpoint near the village of Strelkovo in the Kherson region adjacent to Crimea, March 17, 2014.
  • Members of a Crimean self-defense unit speak with a motorcyclist waving a Russian flag in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine, March 17, 2014.
  • Armed men, believed to be Russian, dig trenches near the Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye outside Simferopol, March 17, 2014.
  • A pro-Russian crowd celebrates in the central square in Sevastopol, Ukraine, March 16, 2014.
  • People wrapped in Russian flags watch fireworks during celebrations after the preliminary referendum results were announced in Lenin Square in the Crimean capital Simferopol, March 16, 2014.
  • A woman casts her ballot at a polling station during the Crimean referendum, in Sevastopol, Ukraine, March 16, 2014.

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Comment Sorting
Comments page of 6
    Next 
by: Oleg from: Moscow
March 19, 2014 12:14 PM
Surely U.S. and EU sanctions against Russia will not be complete if at least one Russian journalist covering the events in the Crimea will be given in the near future a visa to enter the United States and the EU. Prevent all Russian journalists covering the events in the Crimea from entering the territory of Europe and the United States. I think it should be the number 1 sanction in relation to Russia. Neither Russian journalist should be getting a visa to enter the U.S. and the EU. This should be done immidiately.


by: Anonymous
March 18, 2014 9:18 AM
"I still believe that there is only one solution of this crisis, a peaceful one," Yatsenyuk said.

Since most of Russian citizens in Crimea wanted to join Russia, best solution for them is to depart Crimea for Russia's actual map, no way for annexation of Crimea for their land expansion. They are insulting their new true democratic government in Kiev.


by: Plain Mirror Intl from: Plain Planet - Africa
March 18, 2014 6:15 AM
In democracy, whenever the people speak democratically, every other person or group of persons talks outside the will of the people is considered "non-sense". Crimea people have spoken and decided democratically, can't you see... ? Therefore any other talks outside this is non-sense.

Putin, must "put in" things aright for the Crimea people and that is the will of the Crimea people. Obama, EU and NATO must respect the will of the Crimea people.


by: Fernando from: Napoli
March 18, 2014 3:17 AM
Putin must be punished. Russia must be stopped. I hope, EU and USA will find a common ground for sanctions against Russia which will be able to knee Russia and that Russian people themselves come to the streets to oust Putin.


by: JMZ from: France
March 18, 2014 3:05 AM
What Putin did in Crimea did not happen in Europe since 1938. This violation of international law must not be left unanswered. First of all, Europe has to cut all its business ties with Russia, invest in Liquefacted Gas port facilities and turn away from Gasprom to other exporters, preferably from America. Second, an economic embargo has to be enforced against Russia until the downfall of its current dictatorship. Third, Russian assets belonging to Putin's gang have to be frozen until Russia signs a treaty recognizing the Eastern border and current legitimate government of Ukraine. Great time to roll back Russia, at last!


by: Liao Te Tsai from: Taiwan
March 18, 2014 2:21 AM
Mr. Putin is a real hero in the 21st century! Mr. Obama is the loser and must be ashamed of himself for imposing sanctions against Russia for liberating Crimea.


by: GW from: Texas
March 18, 2014 1:25 AM
Hey Igor Why dont you get yourself another bottle of Vodka Thats all that your Country has to offer Well that an Russian Hitler like Pootnan


by: Ron Taylor from: USA Virginia
March 18, 2014 1:23 AM
Israel will take care of Iran when need be you can bet that...An to Rudy from Canada you know what side your breads buttered on your Country couldn't protect yourselves if you had to.


by: Igor from: Russia
March 18, 2014 12:37 AM
Putin is the greatest Russian leader in history!


by: Huang Jun from: China
March 18, 2014 12:35 AM
Putin is a great brave man who dares to fight for human rights and self-determination of the people of Crimea despite the threat of the mean sactions from the West! Crimea has been liberated after having been given illegally as a GIFT to Ukraine by the damned communist leader.

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