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Obama, EU challenge Crimea secession with Russia sanctions

March 17, 2014 at 6:02 PM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Russia’s annexation of Crimea now appears imminent. Late today, the Kremlin recognized the region’s vote for independence from Ukraine, in the face of U.S. and European penalties.

Hari Sreenivasan has our report on the day’s diplomatic developments.

HARI SREENIVASAN: A day after Crimea voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, President Obama went before White House cameras with the toughest sanctions against Russia since the end of the Cold War.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today, I’m announcing a series of measures that will continue to increase the cost on Russia and on those responsible for what is happening in Ukraine.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The cost means freezing assets and imposing travel bans on seven Russian officials, including some close to President Vladimir Putin, and on four Ukrainians, including former President ViktorYanukovych.

Mr. Obama said he stands ready to ratchet the costs higher, but still holds out hope for another solution.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I believe there’s still a path to resolve this situation diplomatically, in a way that addresses the interests of both Russia and Ukraine. That includes Russia pulling its forces in Crimea back to their bases, supporting the deployment of additional international monitors in Ukraine, and engaging in dialogue with the Ukrainian government.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In Brussels, European Union leaders adopted their own sanctions on 21 Russian and Ukrainian officials.

E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton condemned the Crimean referendum.

CATHERINE ASHTON, Foreign Policy Chief, European Union: I don’t have to remind any of you that it’s illegal under the constitution of Ukraine and under international law. I call upon Russia yet again to meet with Ukrainian leaders and to start dialogue with them and to try and move to de-escalation, please, as quickly as possible. We have seen no evidence of that.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Russia appeared unfazed. Putin signed an order recognizing Crimea as a sovereign state. And Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeted: “I think the decree of the president of the United States was written by some joker.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry called for Ukraine to hand over more power to its provinces and declare itself neutral.

In Kiev, the Ukrainian defense minister insisted his country won’t back down.

IHOR TENYUKH, Defense Minister, Ukraine (through interpreter): One thing I want to say, Crimea was, is and will be our Ukrainian territory. And our military will stay there, and we will fix this question. I think the whole world supports us, and we will fix this question in a peaceful and diplomatic way.

But, in any case, our defense forces are ready to execute an order.

HARI SREENIVASAN: To that end, Ukraine’s parliament authorized mobilization of 40,000 reservists to counter what it calls blatant aggression by Russia.

Meanwhile, President Putin will address the Russian parliament tomorrow on annexing Crimea. And Vice President Joe Biden heads to Europe tonight for talks with NATO allies.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We will get a look from inside Crimea with our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner, right after the news summary.