Friday, March 7, 2014

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany: Thursday’s events in Crimea made the need for action more urgent. | Now the Russia experts hope that a global crisis some believe is a result of American naïveté and unsophistication about Russia may serve as the catalyst for a new generation of Russia experts

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Turmoil in Ukraine

CreditUriel Sinai for The New York Times

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MOSCOW — Leaders of both houses of Russia’s Parliament said on Friday that they would support a vote by Crimea to break away from Ukraine and become a new region of the Russian Federation, the first public signal that the Kremlin was backing the secessionist move that Ukraine, the United States and other countries have denounced as a violation of international law.
Valentina I. Matviyenko, the chairwoman of the upper house, the Federation Council, compared the vote to a scheduled referendum in Scotland on whether to become independent from Britain, omitting the fact that London has agreed to the ballot. Ukraine’s new interim leaders have fiercely opposed splintering the country.
The speaker of the lower house, Sergei Y. Naryshkin, echoed Ms. Matviyenko’s remarks.
“We will respect the historic choice of the people of Crimea,” he said.
The remarks by the leaders, both close political allies of President Vladimir V. Putin, came a day after Crimea’s regional assembly voted behind closed doors to secede from Ukraine and to hold a referendum on March 16 for voters in the region to ratify the decision. On Friday a delegation of lawmakers from Crimea arrived in Moscow to lay the groundwork for joining Russia, winning strong endorsements from senior lawmakers.

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CreditSergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

In Crimea, Speaking out on Referendum

In Yalta and Simferopol, Crimean citizens spoke about the planned referendum on whether to break from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation.

“We admire your fortitude and courage,” Ms. Matviyenko told them, according to Interfax news agency. “Many threats have been made against you; there were threats of attacks, in particular, against the Black Sea Fleet, but you endured that and protected your people.”
The statements underscored how quickly the crisis was evolving. Only three days ago, Mr. Putin said he did not foresee the possibility of Crimea becoming part of Russia, though he cited the independence of Kosovo as a precedent. “We will in no way provoke such any such decision and will not breed such sentiments,” he said. The Kremlin has not yet directly addressed the possibility of Crimea’s secession.
The move to break away from Ukraine was swiftly denounced by the fledgling national government in Kiev, which said it would invalidate the decision and dissolve the Crimean Parliament, and also by President Obama in Washington, where the United States government on Thursday announced sanctions in response to Russia’s military occupation of the Crimean Peninsula.
“Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine,” Mr. Obama said at the White House. “In 2014, we are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders.”
Hours after the United States announced the first punitive actions against specific Russians, Mr. Obama contacted President Vladimir V. Putin. The two leaders spoke for an hour by telephone and, according to the White House, Mr. Obama urged Mr. Putin to authorize direct talks with Ukraine’s new pro-Western government, permit the entry of international monitors and return his forces to the bases that Russia leases in Crimea.
Early Friday, the Kremlin released a statement offering a starkly different account of the phone call, and emphasizing Russia’s view that the new government in Kiev is illegitimate.
“In the course of the discussion there emerged differences in approaches and assessments of the causes which brought about the current crisis and the resulting state of affairs,” the statement said. “Vladimir Putin, for his part, noted that this had occurred as a result of an anti-constitutional coup, which does not have a national mandate.”

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Ukraine Crisis in Maps

The Kremlin went on to say that the current Ukrainian leadership had imposed “absolutely illegitimate decisions” on the eastern and southeastern regions of the country. “Russia cannot ignore appeals connected to this, calls for help, and acts appropriately, in accordance with international law,” the statement said.
Mr. Putin, the statement said, appreciated the importance of the Russian-American relationship to global security, and added that bilateral ties “should not be sacrificed for individual — albeit rather important — international problems.”
In Kiev, the leader of the Right Sector movement, Dmytro Yarosh, will run for president of Ukraine, the chairman of the local branch of the movement, Andriy Tarasenko, said on Friday. The nationalist group, which was important in the fight for Kiev’s Independence Square, will rename itself at a congress in a week and participate in elections at all levels, Mr. Tarasenko said.
Right Sector has been controversial for its semi-military organization, but it has also refrained from working in eastern Ukraine, where its presence could be seen as a provocation by Russia. But Mr. Tarasenko said that the group is prepared to fight, in Crimea and elsewhere, “if the Kremlin tramples on us further.” He added, “Accordingly, we are conducting mobilization and are preparing to repel foreign aggression.”
Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, the interim prime minister of Ukraine, said on Friday that he had requested a second telephone conversation with the Russian prime minister, Dmitri A. Medvedev. The two men last spoke on Saturday, which was the only high-level contact between Moscow and the new authorities in Kiev.
Ukraine is ready for talks with Russia, Mr. Yatsenyuk said, but Moscow must first withdraw its troops, abide by international agreements and halt its support for "separatists and terrorists in Crimea." He repeated Ukraine's position that a referendum in Crimea is both illegal and unconstitutional. "No one in the civilized world will recognize the results of a so-called referendum carried out by these so-called authorities," Mr. Yatsenyuk said.
With Washington and Moscow trading angry accusations of hypocrisy on the issue of respecting state sovereignty, validating Crimea’s secession would carry pointed political risks for Mr. Putin, given longstanding demands for independence from Russia by its own similarly autonomous republics in the Caucasus, including Dagestan and Chechnya.

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CreditGabriella Demczuk/The New York Times

Obama Delivers Statement on Ukraine

President Obama said, “Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine.”

Michael A. McFaul, the former American ambassador to Russia, noted the parallel in a sharp post on Twitter. “If Russian government endorses Crimean referendum,” Mr. McFaul wrote, using abbreviations needed for a 140-character limit, “will they also allow/endorse similar votes in republics in the Russian Federation?”
The West, which has insisted that the Ukrainian people are entitled to decide their future without interference from Russia, faces similar challenges as it seeks to explain why the people of Crimea should not necessarily decide their own fate.
The United States and its European allies typically support self-determination but have opposed independence for regions in their own borders, like Scotland from Britain or Catalonia from Spain.
As Russian armed forces held the Crimean peninsula in a tight clench, with military bases surrounded and border crossings under strict control, international diplomats raced from meeting to meeting on Thursday in an effort to end the standoff.
European leaders signaled they might join American sanctions and Moscow threatened countermeasures as an already tense situation was made edgier by the start of new Russian military drills.
European Union leaders issued a statement in Brussels calling an annexation referendum “contrary to the Ukrainian Constitution and therefore illegal.”
In Kiev, the acting president of Ukraine, Oleksandr V. Turchynov, said the national government would invalidate the decision to hold the referendum and would dissolve the Crimean Parliament. Crimea, part of Ukraine since 1954, has enjoyed substantial autonomy since shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the region’s Constitution generally defers to the national Ukrainian Constitution on jurisdictional matters.


Pro-Russia protesters got off a police bus in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, on Thursday and were greeted by supporters, who had forced the police to release them.CreditUriel Sinai for The New York Times

Mr. Turchynov scoffed at the plan for a referendum, noting that Russian forces had taken control of Crimea’s borders and ports and were blocking Ukrainian military bases and occupying other security installations. “This will be a farce,” he said in a televised address. “This will be false. This will be a crime against the state.” He insisted that Ukraine would “protect the sanctity of our territory.”
Officials in Kiev had already declared the Crimean Parliament to be acting illegally, and a court issued an arrest warrant for Sergei Aksyonov, the leader of the breakaway effort, who was installed as prime minister of Crimea after armed men seized the Parliament building last week.
Leaders of the peninsula’s large Crimean Tatar minority also denounced the move. “Today’s decision by the Parliament is completely illegal,” said Refat Chubarov, the leader of the main Tatar organization and a member of Parliament. He refused to take part in the parliamentary voting on Thursday because he said it was illegitimate.
“More troubling for us is that this decision could provoke and lead to further escalation of tensions,” Mr. Chubarov said in an interview. “A referendum under the conditions of the presence of foreign troops on the streets is called something entirely different in world practice — it’s a coup. It’s the seizure of territory.”
The sanctions Mr. Obama approved Thursday imposed visa bans on officials and other individuals deemed responsible for undermining Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. The administration would not disclose the names or number of people penalized, but a senior official said privately that it would affect just under a dozen people, mostly Russians but some of them Ukrainian.
Among those targeted were political figures, policy advisers, security officials and military officers who played a direct role in the Crimean crisis, the official said. Any of them seeking to travel to the United States would be barred, and a few who currently hold American visas will have them revoked.
Mr. Obama also signed an executive order laying out a framework for tougher measures like freezing the assets of individuals and institutions. But the White House refrained from applying those measures while officials gathered evidence in the hope that waiting would provide some space for Russia to reverse course. The House, in the meantime, approved an economic aid package for the Kiev government and advanced its own sanctions resolution.
Moscow, however, gave no indication that it would back down, suggesting that it would reciprocate with measures seizing American property in Russia. “The U.S. has the right, and we have the right to respond to it,” Vladimir Lukin, a Russian envoy who has worked on the Ukrainian crisis, told Interfax, a Russian news agency. “But all that is, of course, not making me happy.”
The European Union took a step toward more serious measures by suspending talks with Moscow on a wide-ranging political-economic pact and on liberalizing visa requirements to make it easier for Russians to travel to Europe. European leaders laid out a three-stage process that, absent progress, would next move to travel bans, asset seizures and the cancellation of a planned European Union-Russia summit meeting and eventually to broader economic measures.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who has been reluctant to move quickly toward sanctions, said the European Union was looking for concrete evidence that Russia was trying to calm the situation “in the next few days,” but she noted that Thursday’s events in Crimea made the need for action more urgent.
“We made it very clear that we are absolutely willing to achieve matters by negotiation,” she said. “We also say, however, that we are ready and willing, if these hopes were to be dashed and looking at what happened on Crimea, to adopt sanctions.”

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