US warns Russia on moves near Ukraine

2014-03-16 21:50
A woman holds a poster against war at Kiev's Independence Square, in Ukraine. (Efrem Lukatsky, AP)

A woman holds a poster against war at Kiev's Independence Square, in Ukraine. (Efrem Lukatsky, AP)

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Washington - With the Crimea referendum an apparent foregone conclusion and US and European sanctions on Russia imminent, the Obama administration shifted its sites on Sunday to stopping Russian military advances near eastern and southern Ukraine that could further inflame the crisis.

Repeating that the United States will not recognise the results of the Crimea vote and will, with the European Union, impose penalties on Russia if it annexes the strategic region, senior US officials warned that any Russia moves on east and south Ukraine would be a grave escalation requiring additional responses.

Secretary of State John Kerry called on Moscow to return its troops in Crimea to their bases, pull back forces from the Ukraine border, halt incitement in eastern Ukraine and support the political reforms in Ukraine that would protect ethnic Russians, Russian speakers and others in the former Soviet Republic that Russia says it is concerned about.

In a phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, their second since unsuccessful face-to-face talks on Friday in London, Kerry urged Russia "to support efforts by Ukrainians across the spectrum to address power sharing and decentralisation through a constitutional reform process that is broadly inclusive and protects the rights of minorities", the State Department said.

Kerry expressed "strong concerns" about Russian military activities in the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson, just north of Crimea where Russian troops appeared on Saturday, and about "continuing provocations" in cities in east Ukraine, the department said.

Kerry "made clear that this crisis can only be resolved politically and that as Ukrainians take the necessary political measures going forward, Russia must reciprocate by pulling forces back to base and addressing the tensions and concerns about military engagement", the department said.

A senior State Department official said Lavrov's willingness to discuss Ukraine political reforms was positive, but the official stressed that the Russian military escalation was of "greatest concern" and must be reversed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the private conversation.

White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer stressed that Russia faces penalties that will badly hurt its economy and diminish its influence in the world if President Vladimir Putin doesn't back down. He said the Obama administration's top priority is supporting the new Ukrainian government "in every way possible".

"President Putin has a choice about what he's going to do here. Is he going to continue to further isolate himself, further hurt his economy, further diminish Russian influence in the world, or is he going to do the right thing?" Pfeiffer said.

- AP
Read more on:    us  |  russia  |  ukraine
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