Obama and EU slap first sanctions on Russia over Ukraine crisis

  • Crimean parliament votes to secede from Ukraine
  • Obama tells Putin: sanctions for ‘violation of sovereignty’
  • German chancellor Angela Merkel: ‘We’re ready to act’

The United States and the European Union on Thursday unveiled sanctions to punish Russia for occupying Crimea, imposing visa restrictions on individuals and sharpening rhetoric in what has rapidly degenerated into the worst east-west crisis since the end of the cold war.

In their first concrete response to Russia’s move to wrest the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine, Washington and Brussels also warned of further sanctions, such as asset seizures, if Moscow does not relent in the stand-off.

“I am confident that we are moving forward together, united in our determination to oppose actions that violate international law,” Barack Obama told reporters in Washington. “That includes standing up for the principle of state sovereignty.”

After an emergency EU summit in Brussels, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said: “We have experienced very much disappointment in recent days and we’re ready to act.

“We are in close coordination with the United States on this. We cannot go back to business as usual” with Russia, she added.

The White House said its visa bans would affect an unspecified number of Russian and Ukrainian individuals immediately, with the threat of asset seizures and bans doing business in the US hanging as a deterrent against further escalation in the Ukraine. The EU for its part agreed to suspend visa and investment talks with Russia and held out the prospect of a full-blown trade and economic conflict with Russia unless there was a diplomatic breakthrough.

“The solution to the crisis in Ukraine must be based on the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence of Ukraine,” said the EU summit statement. “It would be a matter of great regret if Russia continued to refuse to participate in a productive dialogue with the government of Ukraine.”

The EU and America have struggled to align their response to Russia’s boldest military adventure since the 2008 Georgia war because the stakes are very different for both parties. EU-Russia trade volumes, including vast gas imports and engineering exports, are 15 times the level of US-Russia trade. Washington has far less to lose from a trade war, and has hitherto talked tougher.

The EU said Moscow had days to open negotiations with Kiev and an international contact group that is being established to deal with the crisis.

But Obama’s rhetoric was more combative than of late and he accused Russia of not just “violating sovereignty and territorial integrity” of the Ukraine but of “stealing the assets of the Ukrainian people”.

“In 2014, we are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders,” he added.

It was clear that the sharpening of the western response was both a result of exasperation with Russia’s refusal to make concessions in negotiations in Paris on Wednesday, the first direct talks between Moscow and Washington on Ukraine, and also designed to pile the pressure on Putin to try to make him reverse course.

Full article: Obama and EU slap first sanctions on Russia over Ukraine crisis (South China Morning Post)

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