President Barack Obama and other leaders of G7 industrialized nations are set to hold emergency talks Monday in The Hague to sharpen their response to the Russian annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula.
Details of the emergency meeting, set for the sidelines of a nuclear security summit, were not clear Sunday. But analysts say the session appears aimed at coordinating Western sanctions imposed on Moscow since Russian troops crossed into Crimea earlier this month.
The group also is expected to further evaluate the cost of possible retaliatory measures from Moscow.
Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are set to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
NATO expresses concern
In Brussels Sunday, NATO's top commander warned that Russia has deployed a "sizeable" military force on its borders with Ukraine, and says Moscow may be seeking to expand its territorial reach into new areas.
U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove told attendees at a German Marshall Fund event that Moscow may be eyeing a small Russian-speaking separatist region on Ukraine's southwestern border known as Transdniester.
Breedlove says the NATO command finds the potential for a Russian move into the Transdniester region, which declared independence from Moldova in the 1990s, "very worrisome."
For its part, Moscow insists it is complying with international troop limits near the Ukrainian border. Additionally, Russia's defense chief sought last week to assure U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that Russian troops massed near Ukraine had no intention of crossing the border.
The NATO warning on Transdniester comes a day after heavily armed Russian troops fired shots and used armored vehicles to smash through the gates of Ukraine's Belbek air base. Ukrainian forces inside the Crimean base offered no resistance. Russian forces also took control of a Ukrainian naval base at Novofedorovka.
Ukraine unity rally
Thousands of Ukrainians gathered on Sunday in Kyiv's Independence Square calling for unity, a day after Russian forces seized the last major Ukrainian military base in Crimea.
The rally participants gathered to hear pro-Ukraine speeches, display flags, and place flowers at the site of a makeshift memorial to anti-government protesters killed last month in clashes with security forces of the now toppled regime of president Viktor Yanukovych.
But even the challenge of Russian aggression Ukrainians will overcome, Andriy Parubiy, one of the speakers at the rally, told the crowds.
”Against military power, tanks and weapons there is spiritual power and the civilized world has said 'stop' to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and we will prevail like we prevailed on Maidan,'' said Parubiy, who heads the National Security and Defense Council in the new government.
Maidan, as Kyiv’s Independence Square is referred to, has been the epicenter of protests since last November when Yanukovych spurned a EU trade deal in favor of closer ties with Moscow.
In the eastern city of Donetsk, pro-Russian protesters gathered around an administration building, calling for the resignation of the local governor, who is loyal to Kyiv.
Congressional delegation in Kyiv
Members of a bipartisan U.S. congressional delegation visiting Kyiv say they have been told by all the Ukrainians they met Sunday that they will not yield “another inch” of territory to Russia and that the Ukrainians are ready to fight.
The lawmakers, headed by Senator Kelly Ayotte, told reporters late Sunday they are optimistic tougher sanctions, other punitive legislation under consideration by their colleagues and a united front by western European countries can deter Russia from further provocations.
“They’ve won the battle of Crimea for now. And they may be anticipating going into eastern Ukraine tomorrow. But this won’t be a short battle. This will be something long term and we’re sure that our neighbors in NATO and democracy-loving nations will stand together in the long run,” said Congressman Stephen Lynch, a member of the group.
The delegation also included Senator Joe Donnelly.
Blackouts in Crimea
Parts of Crimea were hit by power outages late on Sunday and the regional power company blamed them on technical problems in a power line from the Ukrainian mainland to the Black Sea peninsula, which has been wrestled away from Kyiv by Moscow.
Local residents said there was no electricity in several cities in Crimea, including in some districts of the provincial capital of Simferopol, though the city center was not affected.
Crimea's power provider Krymenergo said in a statement on its website it introduced partial power cuts after a line operated by Ukraine's national electricity company, Ukrenergo, was hit by a technical fault and went down for repairs.
Crimea’s new pro-Moscow authorities seized the opportunity to blame Kyiv, accusing it of blackmail.
”Reducing [the power] supply - is an attempt by Kyiv to blackmail Russia because of [what happened in] Crimea in order to be able to bargain for something. It’s a cheap trick…,” said the region’s de facto prime minister, Sergei Aksyonov, in a tweet.
Some reporting by Reuters