As the political environment in Ukraine grows increasingly unstable, President Obama yesterday warned Russian President Vladimir Putin to refrain from violating the “sovereignty and territorial integrity” of the Ukrainian people with a military incursion into the independent nation.
“We are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine,” Obama said yesterday from the White House. “Russia has a historic relationship with Ukraine, including cultural and economic ties and a military facility in Crimea. But any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing, which is not in the interests of Ukraine, Russia or Europe. It would represent a profound interference in matters that must be determined by the Ukrainian people. It would be a clear violation of Russia’s commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty and borders of Ukraine, and of international laws.”
Obama said his administration has been talking to Putin and Russian officials and the U.S. believes Russia can be part of the international community’s effort to support “the stability and success of a united Ukraine going forward.”
The question the world is trying to determine is how much involvement Russia has had in the destabilization of Crimea, an autonomous Ukrainian region with historic ties to Russia. While Obama is warning Putin to leave the Crimea alone, Crimea’s pro-Russian Prime Minister Sergei Aksenov is pleading for Russia to intervene to put down the rebellion by armed forces inside the region.
The conflict is considered the most tense regional crisis since the Russia-Georgia war six years ago.
Aksenov said any members of the armed forces, police, national security service and border guards who did not want to answer only to his orders should leave their posts.
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“Understanding my responsibility for the life and security of citizens, I appeal to the president of Russia Vladimir Putin for assistance in guaranteeing peace and calmness on the territory of the autonomous republic of Crimea,” Aksenov said in his statement.
Pro-Russian forces reportedly are already in control of Crimea’s key airport and parliament building, while Russian troops are on the move across the peninsula.
But Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, is vociferously opposed to Russian involvement, accusing Putin of “provocations” and urging him to pull back. Ukraine’s interior minister Arsen Avakov described the takeover of the airports as a “military invasion and occupation.”
Secretary of State John Kerry said he had spoken by phone to Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and received assurances about reports of Russian forces in Crimea.
“We raised the issue of the airport, raised the issue of armored vehicles, raised the issue of personnel in various places,” Kerry said. “While we were told that they are not engaging in any violation of the sovereignty and do not intend to, I nevertheless made it clear that that could be misinterpreted at this moment and that there are enough tensions that it is important for everybody to be extremely careful not to inflame the situation and not to send the wrong messages.”
“The events of the past several months remind us of how difficult democracy can be in a country with deep divisions,” Obama said. “But the Ukrainian people have also reminded us that human beings have a human universal right to determine their own future.”
European leaders such as David Cameron in the U.K. and Angela Merkel in Germany also insisted that Moscow respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity.