President Obama warned on Friday “there will be costs” for Russia taking military action within Ukraine, as reports accumulate alleging that Moscow is doing just that in the Crimea peninsula.
Speaking from the White House Briefing Room, Obama told reporters that while Russia and Ukraine have a deep history, the United States is “now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of the Ukraine.” Unconfirmed reports earlier on Friday said that Russia had flown 2,000 troops into its military facility in Crimea, home of the Russian Black Sea fleet. Unidentified armed gunmen have also taken up locations in Crimea’s airports, parliament, and media outlets.
“Russia has a historic relationship with Ukraine, including cultural and economic ties, and a military facility in Crimea,” Obama continued, “but any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing, which is not in the interest of Ukraine, Russia, or Europe.” Such a breach would be against Russia’s commitments and international law, Obama said, noting that it would come only days after the conclusion of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
“[I]t would invite the condemnation of nations around the world,” Obama warned, “and indeed, the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”
Obama’s statement is the most direct warning to date to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to allow Ukraine to determine its own fate. Moscow has so far denied any interference within Ukraine’s borders or provocation of the interim government in Kyiv. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday likewise told Secretary of State John Kerry that the large-scale military exercises spontaneously called on Tuesday had nothing to do with the situation across the border.
Since former president Viktor Yanukovch’s ouster last weekend, Crimea has become the new focal point for concern over the crisis escalating. The only autonomous province in Ukraine, the local parliament has called for a referendum for even more autonomy from Kyiv to take place on May 25 — the same day that Ukraine is scheduled to elect its new president. Reports on Thursday night, and confirmed in video on Friday, indicated that armed men were patrolling Crimea’s airports. While the gunmen’s identity has yet to be confirmed, they raised a Russian flag over the airport in the Crimean capital, and reports claim they may be Russian private military contractors.
Obama was a candidate for his first term in office when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 in the name of protecting ethnic Russians in the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abhkahzia. Interim President Turchynov warned that such an instance was now underway in Crimea, which has a population that is nearly 60 percent ethnically Russian, and claimed that Russia was attempting to provoke a response from Ukraine. The Ukrainian army is “not responding” to the provocation, he said in a televised address, but urged Moscow to “pull out” its troops.
“I personally appeal to President Putin to immediately stop military provocation and to withdraw from the Autonomous Republic of Crimea… It’s a naked aggression against Ukraine,” Turchynov said.