Russia heightened its tone on Friday when it vowed retaliation if sanctions were imposed after France threatened a second round of embargoes if Moscow doesn’t stop its intervention in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Valentina Matvienko, the speaker of Russia’s house of parliament, said Friday that Crimea would be welcome as an equal part of Russia if the region votes to leave Ukraine in an upcoming referendum, the Associated Press reported.
Matvienko met with the head of the Crimean parliament to discuss the region’s possible accession to Russia. On Thursday, the parliament of Crimea voted to move the referendum date up to March 16, and to include a question on joining Russia.
Russia’s foreign ministry accused the European Union of taking an “extremely unconstructive position” by freezing talks on easing visa barriers that complicate travel between Russia and the EU over Ukraine.
The ministry’s statement added: “Russia will not accept the language of sanctions and threats” and will retaliate if sanctions are imposed.
On Friday, France’s foreign minister said that if a first round of sanctions did not succeed against Russia in the wake of its military intervention in Ukraine, a second could follow, targeting Russian businesses and people close to President Vladimir Putin.
“If there are not very swift results, there will be new measures aimed at those responsible and Russian businesses,” Reuters quoted Laurent Fabius as telling France Info radio.
“It could be freezing assets, it could be cancellations, it could be refusing visas,” he added, without elaborating.
Fabius called the situation in Ukraine “a serious crisis, maybe one of the most serious since the Cold War.”
On Friday, the Kremlin reported the Russian President Vladimir Putin as saying that Moscow and Washington should not sacrifice relations over the current crisis in Ukraine, despite the two having different ideas on how to deal with the situation.
Putin “stressed the paramount importance of Russian-American relations to ensure stability and security in the world. These relations should not be sacrificed for individual differences, albeit very important ones, over international problems,” the Kremlin quoted Putin as telling U.S. President Barack Obama in a one-hour telephone call.
Putin told Obama that Ukraine’s new leaders, who came to power in an anti-constitutional coup, according to the Russian leader, had imposed “absolutely illegitimate decisions on the eastern, southeastern and Crimea regions.”
On Thursday, parliament in Ukraine’s southern Crimea region voted to join Russia and will hold a referendum on becoming part of the Russian federation on March 16, moves which pro-Western leaders in Kiev said would violate international law. Russia on Friday said it “will respect the historic choice of the people of Crimea.”
Meanwhile, Putin added:“Russia cannot ignore calls for help in this matter and it acts accordingly, in full compliance with the international law.”
In the phone call, Obama urged Putin to accept the terms of a potential diplomatic solution to the situation, which has triggered the worst crisis in U.S.-Russian relations since the end of the Cold War.
Putin has stridently defended Russia’s moves in Ukraine, a country he calls a “a brotherly nation,” saying Moscow was not behind the seizure of Crimea, the home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
Putin denied western accusations that his troops have captured state buildings in Crimea, saying the armed men were members of local self-defense units.
Willing to cooperate
He says Russia is willing to cooperate with Western powers but any solution to the crisis must be based on an EU-brokered agreement signed on Feb. 21 by ousted leader Viktor Yanukovich, who Putin has said is Ukraine’s legitimate president.
Putin said he agreed with Obama that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry should continue “intensive contacts” on Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Obama told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Thursday in a 40-minute phone call that Russia’s intervention in Ukraine threatened world peace, Reuters reported the White House as saying.
Abiding by obligations
“The two leaders agreed that Russia’s actions are a threat to international peace and security and emphasized the importance of preserving Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the White House said in a statement about the call.
“They committed to work with other G-7 partners to insist that Russia abide by its obligations and commitments to Ukraine’s sovereignty,” it added.
The crisis has put Japan in a tight diplomatic spot, as it seeks to balance support for its key ally the United States with a recent push to improve ties with Russia driven by a need to increase energy imports to replace lost nuclear power.
While Obama ordered sanctions on those responsible for Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine, including bans on travel to the United States and the freezing of their U.S. assets, the Pentagon announced a large-scale air force exercise in Poland that Washington’s ambassador to Warsaw said had been augmented to reassure U.S. allies in the region in the light of the Ukraine crisis.
(With Reuters)SHOW MORE