Obama: Crimea Seperation Violates Law 03/06 12:49
President Barack Obama declared on Thursday that a referendum in 10 days on
the future of a Ukraine's Crimea peninsula would violate international law. The
United States also moved to impose visa restrictions and financial sanctions on
Russians and Ukrainians for the moves Moscow already has made into Crimea.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama declared on Thursday that a
referendum in 10 days on the future of a Ukraine's Crimea peninsula would
violate international law. The United States also moved to impose visa
restrictions and financial sanctions on Russians and Ukrainians for the moves
Moscow already has made into Crimea.
Speaking from the White House, Obama said any decisions on the future of
Crimea, a pro-Russian area of Ukraine, must include the country's new
"The proposed referendum on the future of Crimea would violate the
constitution and violate international law," Obama said. "We are well beyond
the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders."
Obama spoke hours after a March 16 date was set for a referendum on whether
the region should become part of Russia.
Russian forces began moving into Crimea about a week ago, despite Obama's
warnings that there would be costs for such actions. Seeking to follow through
on that threat, Obama moved Thursday to enact new visa restrictions on an
unspecified and unidentified number of people and entities that the U.S.
accused of threatening Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial borders. The
restrictions were unlikely to directly target Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Obama also signed an executive order that will allow the U.S. to levy
financial sanctions. In a statement, the White House said the penalties would
target "those who are most directly involved in destabilizing Ukraine,
including the military intervention in Crimea, and does not preclude further
steps should the situation deteriorate."
In Brussels, meanwhile, the European Union announced it was suspending talks
with Russia on an economic pact and on a visa deal in response to the Russian
intervention in Crimea. EU leaders, like Obama, threatened further sanctions if
Russia pushes ahead.
"I am confident that we are moving forward together, united in our
determination to oppose actions that violate international law and to support
the government and people of Ukraine," Obama said.
Senior Obama administration officials said penalties will deepen
significantly if Russia presses into areas of eastern Ukraine, though they said
there is currently no indication Moscow has taken that step. The officials also
indicated that the penalties could be ratcheted down if Russia pulls back its
troops in Crimea and recognizes Ukraine's new government.
"We call on Russia to take the opportunity before it to resolve this crisis
through direct and immediate dialogue with the government of Ukraine," the
White House statement read.
Ukraine's unrest peaked in February, after months of pro-Western protests
seeking the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych in anger over economic
woes and corruption. Yanukovych, who is pro-Russian, fled for protection to a
location just outside of Moscow, and Putin sent troops into Crimea in a show of
force against the upstart government in Kiev.
Crimea is a peninsula that hosts a major Russian navy base and is
historically and culturally a Russian stronghold.
The visa bans will be imposed immediately and come in addition to an earlier
State Department decision to deny U.S. entry to those involved in human rights
abuses related to political oppression in Ukraine. Officials would not say
whether Yanukovych was a target of the visa ban or the sanctions.
The sanctions plan, outlined in an executive order, lays the legal
groundwork for the Treasury Department to impose financial penalties on
offenders. The aim is clearly to punish the separatist movement in Crimea as
well as Russia for its decision to send military forces there.
Specifically, the sanctions would target people who undermine Ukraine's
democracy and new government; threaten the country's peace, security, stability
and sovereignty; are linked to misappropriations of government assets; and try
to assert governmental authority over any part of Ukraine without the consent
of Kiev. They would also prohibit U.S. persons from doing business with those
who have been sanctioned.
Congress has been rushing to impose hard-hitting sanctions on Russia in
response to its takeover of Crimea, hoping Europe will follow the lead of the
United States in upping the pressure on Putin's government.
The U.S. sanctions push represents a rare case of broad agreement among the
Obama administration and Democrats and Republicans in both houses of Congress.
But they all are also united in their concern that American economic penalties
will mean little without the participation of European countries with far
deeper commercial relations with Russia.
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, welcomed the
sanctions and said the Ohio Republican is "committed to working with the
administration to give President Obama as many tools as needed to put President
Putin in check as well as prevent Russia from infringing on the sovereignty of
any of its other neighbors."
Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, called the new penalties "a
positive first step" that needs to be coupled with similar sanctions from
Europe to underscore the costs --- diplomatic and economic --- of rejecting
"I hope that Russia can be dissuaded from further aggression and can be
walked back from its perilous course," Schiff said. "But if not, the U.S. and
its allies must be prepared to use all of the diplomatic and economic tools at
its disposal to deter such reckless conduct."