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Standoff between Russian and Ukraine troops spark traded accusations, threats

Updated 3:00 p.m. EST:

Amid his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Barack Obama made several remarks on the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, calling Russia’s advances in Crimea a violation of international law and Ukrainian sovereignty. Mr. Obama added: “My interest is seeing the Ukrainian people being able to determine their own destiny.”

Video by PBS NewsHour

Adding that Russia’s “on the wrong side of history,” Mr. Obama said that Russia had two paths going forward:

“The facts on the ground in Crimea are deeply troubling, and Russia has a large army that borders Ukraine.

But what is also true is that over time, this will be a costly proposition for Russia, and now’s the time for them to consider whether they can serve their interest in a way that resorts to diplomacy as opposed to force.

I’ve heard a lot of talk from Congress about what should be done, what they want to do. One thing they can do right away is to work with the administration to help provide a package of assistance to the Ukrainians, to the people and their government …

At this stage, there should be unanimity among Democrats and Republicans that when it comes to preserving the principle that no country has the right to send in troops into another country unprovoked, we should be able to come up with a unified position that stands outside of partisan politics.”

Updated 2:00 p.m. EST: In the latest in a string of criticisms against the Obama administration, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., blamed President Barack Obama’s “feckless” foreign policy for the mounting tensions in Ukraine.

“The president of the United States believes that the Cold War is over,” McCain told the pro-Israel group American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, on Monday. “That’s fine, it is over, but Putin doesn’t believe it’s over.”

Video by the Associated Press

McCain continued: “Look at Moldova, look at the occupation of Georgia, look at the pressure on the Balkan nations. Look at what (Russians are) doing in assisting (Syrian President) Bashar Assad slaughter tens of thousands of innocent people in cities and towns and countryside all over Syria. It is an outrage.”

Updated 1:45 p.m. EST: Prior to his trip to Kiev, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he was looking forward to a “very constructive conversation” about the situation in Ukraine.

Video by PBS NewsHour

Accompanied by Moldovan prime minister Iurie Leanca, Kerry said, “I regret to say that Russia, in some of the challenges we’re seeing right now in Ukraine, has put pressure on Moldova” in regards to the country’s energy sources and ability to trade.

Moldova shares a border with southern Ukraine.

Original post follows:

The military standoff between Russia and Ukraine continued to raise tensions Monday in the peninsula of Crimea, as Russian troops and supporters blockaded Ukrainian army and naval forces and threats of ultimatums were levied.

Ukraine’s defense ministry spokesman Maksim Prauta said that two Ukranian ships were blocked from leaving the dock in Sevastopol harbor by four Russian navy ships Monday. Prauta, according to the Associated Press, accused Russia of issuing an ultimatum to the two naval vessels which stated that the ships needed to immediately surrender or be stormed and seized.

Russian defense ministry spokesman Vladimir Anikin called the reports of an ultimatum “total nonsense.”

On land, Russian troops currently control all Ukrainian border posts, in addition to all military facilities and a ferry terminal in Crimea. In an interview with the LA Times, Col. Sergei Stashenko, commander of Ukrainian forces at an army base in the city of Bakhchisarai, said that Russian officers have proposed that Ukrainian soldiers should take a Russian military oath, leave their weapons, surrender the base to Russian forces and travel home.

In a phone call with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden Monday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev defended the presence of Russian troops in Crimea. Medvedev’s press secretary said that during the call, which was initiated by the U.S., the prime minister stressed to Biden the need to “protect Ukrainian citizens, including in Crimea, as well as citizens of the Russian Federation located on the territory of Ukraine.”

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov Monday defended the presence of troops in Crimea, saying that they were necessary “until the normalization of the political situation” in Crimea.

The U.S. and allies are currently weighing sanctions on Moscow and deciding whether to increase defense preparations in Europe. Earlier Monday, the U.S. also pulled its presidential delegation to the Paralympic games in Sochi, Russia.

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