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Brushing off expanded sanctions, Moscow moves to annex Crimea

March 20, 2014 at 6:09 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama upped the ante against Russia over Crimea today and triggered a return salvo from Moscow.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The world is watching with grave concern as Russia has positioned its military in a way that could lead to further incursions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The words of warning came on the White House lawn, as the president expanded economic sanctions first announced on Monday.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I signed a new executive order today that gives us the authority to impose sanctions, not just on individuals, but on key sectors of the Russian economy. This is not our preferred outcome. However, Russia must know that further escalation will only isolate it further from the international community.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The latest sanctions target President Vladimir Putin’s chief of staff and wealthy supporters.

And they quickly provoked a reaction. Within minutes, the Kremlin announced sanctions against nine U.S. officials, including Senators John McCain and Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner. The Russian inner circle also faces new penalties from European leaders, who met in Brussels today to consider their next punitive measures.

In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the G8 meeting that Russia was scheduled to host in June has been suspended indefinitely.

CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL, Germany (through interpreter): It is clear that as long as the political conditions for the G8 are nonexistent, like right now, the G8 doesn’t exist anymore, either as an organization or as a summit.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Russians remained undeterred. The Lower House of Parliament approved the treaty to annex Crimea, with the Upper expected to give final approval tomorrow.

And Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke to Secretary of State John Kerry in a phone call, making clear there’s no going back. The Foreign Ministry quoted him as saying, “The decision on the reunification of Crimea with Russia is not subject to review and should be respected.”

Lavrov warned again that the Kremlin has its eyes on ethnic Russians elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

SERGEI LAVROV, Foreign Minister, Russia (through interpreter): We will be defending the interests of Russians abroad by political, diplomatic and legal means. We will be insisting that the countries where our compatriots found themselves in respect their rights and freedoms in full.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ukraine charged Russia is preparing for an invasion of more Ukrainian territory beyond Crimea.

While in Crimea, pro-Russian forces stormed and seized three Ukrainian warships in Sevastopol. The crew of one vessel left with their belongings, as a Russian flag flew from the rigging.

Meanwhile, in Washington, debate is growing about the Obama administration’s handling of the crisis. Senator McCain and others have argued the U.S. should have stood up more firmly to Russian President Putin.

From a different perspective, there’s criticism that U.S. actions provoked the Russians, as when Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland visited Kiev last December, offering bread and support to protesters.