UPDATE (7:25 p.m.): President Barack Obama has invited the leaders of the Group of Seven nations (it was the Group of Eight until Russia took over Crimea) to a summit next week to discuss the crisis between Russia and Ukraine. Leaders from the United States, Britain, Germany, Japan, France, Italy, and Canada will meet with the European Union in The Hague on the sidelines of a previously scheduled nuclear conference.
OUR EARLIER STORY: Denouncing Russia’s actions in Crimea as “nothing more than a land grab,” Vice President Joe Biden warned Tuesday that the U.S. and Europe will impose further sanctions as Moscow moved to annex part of Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty Tuesday for the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea to join Russia. With limited options, the United States and Europe are seeking to show they won’t stand idly by. Meanwhile, a Ukrainian soldier was killed in an armed clash in Crimea.
The Russian Foreign Ministry promised “consequences” for sanctions and visa bans levied by the U.S. and the European Union. Russian politicians and wealthy players themselves, though, seemed tickled by the sanctions.
The Russian State Duma, the lower chamber of parliament, passed a resolution Tuesday challenging President Barack Obama to extend the sanctions to all the 353 deputies who voted for Tuesday’s resolution, suggesting that being targeted was a badge of honor. “I felt some pride to see myself on the blacklist,” Sergei Mironov, a Duma member on the EU list, told journalists.
“I consider this a kind of political Oscar from America for best male supporting role,” said Vladislav Surkov, a close aide to Putin, according to Reuters and Interfax. The CEO of the Russian oil company Rosneft, Igor Sechin, told Russian news agencies Tuesday that sanctions are “evidence of powerlessness.” Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov's Twitter account featured a faked photo of Obama in a Russian uniform online, touting “I wonder if Barack will be promoted to colonel after the successful campaign to return Crimea?”
The rhetoric came Tuesday even as the EU and Biden debated more sanctions. But Biden also promised to work on military support for NATO allies and greater energy diversity in the Baltic nations between Russia and Poland. Biden was in Poland on Tuesday meeting with Baltic diplomats concerned over their shared border with Russia. The U.S. was considering rotating American forces to the Baltic region to conduct war games, Biden said.
Biden’s words signal the West may be gearing up for two of the possible scenarios. The first is an economic showdown. European countries have major economic interests in Russia and vice versa. Much of Europe is heavily dependent on Russian natural gas, about half of which comes through pipelines through Ukraine. Russia and Europe could enter a chess match over their interrelated resources, though the EU would have to assuage the concerns of its smaller, more dependent nations.
“This trial, this challenge that we are facing will not be for a month or a year,” Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said after meeting with Biden. “We are facing a strategic perspective for many years to come.”
The second and worst-case scenario is an armed conflict. At Warsaw’s request, the U.S. last week sent some 300 air troops and a dozen F-16 fighters to Poland for joint training in a show of military support for a key ally. Biden hinted Tuesday at an additional NATO-related boost in American troop presence. Ukraine itself continues to gear up its military in the face of a possible Russian invasion of its mainland. Russian troops beset Ukrainian-Russian borders.
A Ukrainian soldier died and another was injured Tuesday at a besieged Ukrainian military base in the Crimean capital of Simferopol, Reuters reported. Ukrainian officials told Reuters the base came under attack by “unknown forces, fully equipped and their faces covered.”
Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, condemned the incident as a “war crime,” accusing Russia of entering a military phase in the conflict.
Putin claimed Tuesday he has no interest in mainland Ukraine or other former Soviet countries. “We don't want the division of Ukraine. We don't need this,” he said. Still, he continued to use ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine as pawns. Putin pledged to protect Russians as he gave a nod to pro-Russian propaganda in Crimea, which states that Ukraine is unstable and “neo-Nazis” are poised to overtake Kiev. Billboards in Crimea portrayed the referendum as a choice between Russia and a swastika.