President Barack Obama spoke out on the crisis in Ukraine this morning, calling Russia’s actions in Crimea “illegal” and “illegitimate.”
“Nations do not simply redraw borders or make decisions at the expense of their neighbors simply because they are larger or more powerful,” Obama said.
Obama announced new restrictions on individuals and one bank that supports the Russian government. Those narrowly-targeted sanctions, which Russian leaders have brushed off with laughter, remain the only U.S. response to Russia’s takeover of the region of Crimea. Russia immediately hit back with similar restrictions on U.S. leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Fox News reported. Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops are retreating from Crimea, abandoning a key Black Sea naval base in the city of Sevastopol that they cannot hope to defend alone against the outsized military might of Russia.
In a brief speech from the White House lawn, Obama warned of broader sanctions against key sectors of the Russian economy if Russia further encroaches on Ukrainian territory.
Russia is beefing up its military presence at the Ukrainian border and in Crimea, which voted last Sunday in a referendum to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. The battle over Crimea exposes the long-standing clash in Ukraine between Russia’s supporters, many of whom are ethnic Russians, and detractors who want the country to build alliances in Europe. Protestors toppled the pro-Russian government in Ukraine just a month ago, leading to Crimea’s push for secession.
Obama defended the sovereignty of Ukraine in his speech this morning.
“The Russian people need to know, and Mr. Putin needs to understand, that Ukraine shouldn’t have to choose between the West and Russia,” Obama said. “We want the Ukrainian people to determine their own destiny and to have good relations with the U.S., with Russia, with anyone they choose.”
Obama is scheduled to meet next week with leaders of the Group of Seven countries in The Hague to further discuss a unified Western response to Russia’s actions. Much of Europe is heavily dependent on Russian natural gas, about half of which comes through pipelines through Ukraine. Western allies could damage Russian markets by sanctioning its energy sector, but not without disrupting Europe’s own economy, a fact Obama acknowledged in his speech.