WASHINGTON — The United States says Russia appears to be employing the same tactics in eastern Ukraine that were used to seize and annex Crimea earlier this year. The Obama administration says it stands ready to impose new sanctions against Moscow if Ukraine’s sovereignty is violated once again.
Gunbattles between Ukrainian special forces and pro-Russian militias constitute another escalation of conflict in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian residents are agitating for autonomy from Kyiv.
“People of the southeast demand a referendum. It is the highest form of democracy and we want every voice of every citizen of Ukraine to be heard,” said she.
On Palm Sunday in Kyiv, Elena Sergeeva was among Christian worshippers who prayed for peace.
''We are very worried. Ukraine must not be divided and, God willing, people will understand that we all are Ukrainians. We want a united east and west Ukraine,” said Sergeeva.
Russian officials insist they have no territorial designs on eastern Ukraine. But the Obama administration sees the hidden hand of Moscow behind the escalating conflict. U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power spoke on this issue on ABC’s This Week.
“It has all the telltale signs of what we saw in Crimea. It is professional, it is coordinated. There is nothing grassroots-seeming about it,” said Power.
Even before the current escalation of tensions in eastern Ukraine, some U.S. lawmakers urged the United States and Europe to take a stranger stand against Russian territorial expansion. Among them was Republican Senator Dan Coats:
"As I speak, anxieties are building that [Russian President] Vladimir Putin's first big bite out of Ukraine (Crimea) has not satisfied him, and he hungers for more… The lack of an effective, forceful response by the United States and by our allies, particularly our European allies, has given President Putin reason to expect that further aggression will not be punished,” said Coats
Ambassador Power disagrees.
“The Russian stock market has depreciated by 20 percent. Investors are fleeing. And that is just on the basis of the sanctions we have put in place up to this point. The president (Barack Obama) has made clear that, depending on Russian behavior, sanctions against energy, banking, and mining could be on the table,” said Power.
Asked if she believes President Putin wants control of eastern Ukraine, Power said Moscow’s actions “give credence” to that conclusion - despite Russia’s insistence to the contrary.