U.S. President Barack Obama says he believes democracy and the rule of law will triumph in Ukraine.
Obama spoke late Wednesday to an enthusiastic audience at Brussels' Palais des Beaux Arts, after meetings with European Union and NATO officials.
He said Western powers do not have any plans to try to dislodge Russia from Crimea by force. But he said over time, if the West remains united, Russia will recognize that it cannot use brute force to achieve its goals.
Obama also said there was no evidence of violence against ethnic Russians in Ukraine as Moscow has claimed, and he rejected Russian criticisms of NATO actions in Kosovo and the U.S. invasion of Iraq, saying that NATO only intervened in Kosovo after its people were brutalized, and that the U.S. never sought to annex Iraq as Russia has done in Crimea.
He also said NATO would step up its presence in new east European member states bordering on Russia and Ukraine to provide reassurance that the alliance's mutual defense guarantee would protect them.
Watch related video by VOA's Luis Ramirez
Meetings with EU leaders stress unity
Earlier Wednesday, Obama said after meeting with EU leaders that the international community is united in its determination to isolate Russia because of its annexation of Crimea, and that the issue highlights the need for Europe to find other sources for its energy supplies.
Referring to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Obama said that Moscow’s “actions in Ukraine are not just about one country,” but about the respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, and about respect of international law.
“That is what Russia violated,” said Obama speaking at a joint news conference with Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, and Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council.
Obama said that the U.S. and the EU are forming a united front and that consequences for Russia will continue to grow in response to its actions in Ukraine.
"Europe and America are united in our support of the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people; we're united in imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far," said Obama.
He said Russia's energy sector could be the next target of economic sanctions by the United States and the European Union.
Obama told reporters in Brussels that NATO needs a regular presence in countries that feel vulnerable to Russia. He said the situation in Ukraine is a reminder that "freedom isn't free" and added that collective defense means "everybody's got to chip in" to maintain a deterrent force.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Wednesday that Russia has continued to build up military forces along its border with Ukraine, despite assurances it has no intention to invade.
Meanwhile, the World Bank said in a report published Wednesday that if Moscow's standoff with the West over Crimea intensifies, the Russian economy could contract 1.8 percent in 2014 and investors could pull a record $150 billion out of the country.
President Vladimir Putin’s popularity rating has soared with Crimea’s annexation: a poll published Wednesday by the Levada Center, an independent Russian polling agency, found that public support for Mr. Putin had risen to 80 percent during the past week.
However, Boris Nemtsov, a former Russian deputy prime minister who is now a democratic opposition leader, told VOA’s Russian service that Mr. Putin’s popularity could drop as Russians start to feel the costs of the move into Crimea.
“When citizens realize they have to pay for this adventure out of their own pockets, they will start to sober up,” Nemtsov said.
Images from Crimea
Ukrainian tanks are transported from their base in Perevalne, outside Simferopol, Crimea, March 26, 2014.
Ukrainian soldiers transport their tanks from their base in Perevalnoe, outside Simferopol, Crimea, March 26, 2014.
Russian police cars drive and Ukrainian soldiers walk behind Ukrainian tanks at Perevalnoe, outside Simferopol, Crimea, March 26, 2014.
Crimean retirees line up to get their pensions in Russian rubles inside a post office in Simferopol, Crimea, March 25, 2014.
Ukrainian marines prepare to leave their base in Feodosia, Crimea, March 25, 2014.
Russian sailors stand on board the ship Aleksandrovets at the port of Sevastopol, Crimea, March 25, 2014.
Ukrainian sailors leave the Konstantin Olshansky navy ship in the bay of Donuzlav, Crimea, March 24, 2014.
People line up to apply for Russian passports in Sevastopol, Crimea, March 24, 2014.
A man carries a placard with currency rates at an exchange office in Sevastopol, Crimea, March 24, 2014.
Russia denounced at rights forum
More than 40 mainly Western countries led by the U.S. on Wednesday denounced Russia's annexation of Crimea and voiced concern for the fate of minority Tatars as well as missing activists and journalists.
In a joint statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council, they urged Russia to allow international monitors to deploy across Ukraine, “including Crimea.”
Russia has agreed with the 56 other members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to send a six-month monitoring mission to Ukraine, but said it had no mandate in Crimea.
Paula Schriefer, U.S. deputy secretary of state, read a two-page statement to the Geneva forum from 42 countries, saying: “We call on Russia and all concerned to ensure full and unimpeded access and protection for the teams to all of Ukraine, including Crimea....”
“We are deeply concerned about credible reports of kidnappings of journalists and activists, the blocking of independent media and the barring of independent international observers,” she said.
“Furthermore, the situation of minorities in Crimea, in particular the Crimean Tatars, is extremely vulnerable since the Russian military incursion,” Schriefer said.
The International Monetary Fund is expected to announce a bailout package for Ukraine of about $15 billion as early as Thursday, the Financial Times said, citing officials involved in the negotiations.
The IMF had considered a quick infusion of $1 billion from its so-called rapid financing instrument, according to the newspaper. However, it said the IMF now hopes to agree to the larger rescue package by the end of Wednesday and announce the deal Thursday morning.
Ukrainian Finance Minister Olexandr Shlapak on Tuesday said Kyiv was negotiating for a loan package of between $15 billion and $20 billion.
Ukraine bond prices ticked higher and the cost to insure its debt fell to the lowest level in a month following the report on Wednesday.
Ukraine loses last Crimean ship
Russian forces have taken over the Ukrainian minesweeper Cherkasy, the last military ship controlled by Ukraine in Crimea, in an operation in which they used stun grenades and fired in the air, Ukrainian naval sources said on Wednesday.
There were no injuries and the crew remained on board until the morning when they went ashore.
During the take-over, which began on Tuesday evening, the minesweeper used water cannons in an effort to repel the Russian forces who had approached the Cherkasy in speedboats. “Russians threw stun grenades and fired small arms, apparently in the air,” a navy source said.
Russian forces have used similar tactics to seize ships and military bases from the last remaining Ukrainian troops in Crimea.
Some reporting by Reuters