Obama: Crimea Can’t Decide Its Future Without Ukraine

Crimea lawmakers, however, don’t agree.

People waving Russian flags after the Sevastopol regional council supported the vote for Crimea to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.
National Journal
Marina Koren, Matt Vasilogambros, Brian Resnick and Matt Berman
Marina Koren Matt Vasilogambros Brian Resnick Matt Berman
March 6, 2014, 8:28 a.m.

The tug-of-war between Rus­sia and Ukraine over the con­trol of Crimea is tum­bling to­ward its break­ing point.

Law­makers in Crimea an­nounced Thursday they will hold a ref­er­en­dum on March 16 to de­term­ine wheth­er the pen­in­sula should split from Ukraine and join Rus­sia. “This is our re­sponse to the dis­order and law­less­ness in Kiev,” one le­gis­lat­or said. “We will de­cide our fu­ture ourselves.”

Pres­id­ent Obama doesn’t agree. In a brief state­ment from the White House on Thursday, the pres­id­ent cri­ti­cized the ref­er­en­dum, say­ing it would “vi­ol­ate the Ukrain­i­an con­sti­tu­tion and vi­ol­ate in­ter­na­tion­al law.”

“Any dis­cus­sion about the fu­ture of Ukraine must in­clude the le­git­im­ate gov­ern­ment of Ukraine,” Obama said, re­fer­ring to the U.S.-re­cog­nized in­ter­im gov­ern­ment formed by the Ukrain­i­an op­pos­i­tion after the ouster of Pres­id­ent Vikt­or Ya­nukovych. Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin has said he does not re­cog­nize the new lead­er­ship in Kiev.

The move for a ref­er­en­dum has been widely cri­ti­cized by the new gov­ern­ment in Kiev and West­ern lead­ers.

Obama’s not just stand­ing by in the mean­time. The White House an­nounced Thursday that it has im­posed visa bans on Rus­si­an of­fi­cials it feels are re­spons­ible for ac­tions that un­der­mine Ukraine’s sov­er­eignty. The pres­id­ent also signed an ex­ec­ut­ive or­der au­thor­iz­ing sanc­tions on those who have threatened the demo­crat­ic pro­cess in the coun­try.

The end goal of the sanc­tions is dia­logue among the na­tions, and de-es­cal­a­tion of the mil­it­ary cam­paign in Ukraine. “I want to be clear there’s also a way to re­solve this crisis that re­spects the in­terests of the Rus­si­an Fed­er­a­tion as well as the Ukrain­i­an people,” Obama said Tues­day, lay­ing out a pro­pos­al for in­ter­na­tion­al mon­it­ors in Crimea to en­sure the rights of eth­nic Rus­si­ans. “That’s the path of de-es­cal­a­tion.” In a state­ment after the pres­id­ent spoke, Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry said much of the same: “Rus­sia has the op­por­tun­ity now to make the right choices in or­der to de-es­cal­ate.”

On Tues­day, Kerry offered $1 bil­lion in an Amer­ic­an loan guar­an­tee to the new gov­ern­ment in Ukraine.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­cision to im­ple­ment sanc­tions on Rus­si­an and Ukrain­i­an of­fi­cials who in­stig­ated tu­mult in the re­gion has been widely sup­por­ted in Wash­ing­ton. House Speak­er John Boehner’s of­fice wel­comed the first step, say­ing it would “re­main com­mit­ted to work­ing with the ad­min­is­tra­tion to give Pres­id­ent Obama as many tools as needed to put Pres­id­ent Putin in check.”

Oth­ers in Con­gress have pushed for eco­nom­ic and trade sanc­tions as well, but such meas­ures are un­likely to sway Putin. Rus­sia ac­counts for less than 2 per­cent of Amer­ic­an trade, so sanc­tions would barely make a dent in its eco­nomy.

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