U.S. Ambassador: ‘Tell-tale Signs’ Of Russian Involvement In Ukraine Protests

CREDIT: AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

"Pro-Russian gunmen" check their weapons at a seized police station in the eastern Ukraine

The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. on Sunday said the current seizure of government buildings in eastern Ukraine by “pro-Russian forces” bears “all the tell-tale signs” of Russian involvement.

Ambassador Samantha Power was appearing on ABC’s This Week when she made her comments. Currently, Ukrainian security forces are moving to reclaim several government buildings in the east of the country that are currently being held by what media reports describe as “Pro-Russian forces.” So far, these armed gunmen, wearing masks and not bearing any national insignia on their uniforms, have taken over the police station and other such buildings in cities such as Slovyansk and Donetsk. The latter city last week declared itself an independent republic and called for a referendum for more autonomy before potentially joining the Russian Federation, much like Crimea did last month.

“It has all the tell-tale signs of what we saw in Crimea,” Power told host George Stephanopolous. “It’s professional, it’s coordinated, there’s nothing grassroots seeming about it. The forces are doing in each of the six or seven cities that they’ve been active in exactly the same thing, so certainly it bears the tell-tale signs of Moscow’s involvement.” Observers have been quick to note that the kit and uniforms seen on the gunmen in eastern Ukraine are nearly identical to those seen in Crimea.

When Stephanopolous asked what more could be done to stop Russia from involving itself so directly in its neighbor’s affairs, Power pointed to the effect that previous U.S. sanctions have already had on the Russian economy as a potential lever that could be utilized more fully. “Already the sanctions that we’ve put in place have brought the ruble to an all-time low in terms of its value, the Russian stock market has depreciated by twenty percent, investors are fleeing, and that’s just based on the impact of the sanctions that we’ve put into place up until this point,” Power said.

Power also noted that the last of the three executive orders that President Obama has signed on Ukraine gives him the ability to place sanctions on various sectors of the Russian economy such as energy, banking, and mining. So far, the trigger has not been pulled on these sanctions, which Obama has warned could destabilize the global economy due to Russia’s position as one of the largest economies in the world. But it seems as though the administration is strongly considering taking that chance should Moscow continue its current course. “I think we’ve seen the sanctions can bite, and if what we’ve seen over the last few days continues, you’re going to see those sanctions ramping up,” Power said.

Power, however, hedged slightly on whether she believed that Russian president Vladimir Putin intends to control all of eastern Ukraine. “I think the actions that he has undertaken certainly give credence to that idea, but I will say that in the conversations we have with them, they keep insisting ‘No, that’s not what we want, that’s not what we want,'” she said. “But everything they’re doing suggests the opposite.” Currently, there are several thousand Russian forces massed near the Ukrainian border, raising fears that Moscow will use any crackdown against the seizure of buildings will result in a full-on invasion.

“I think there are elections coming up,” Power said, referring to the May 25th national elections, in which Ukraine will elect a new president after ousting pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych earlier this year. “The leadership in Ukraine has been very clear that they’re prepared to have a conversation about autonomy and decentralization. And that’s again what makes this action so outrageous and so ironic, because just at the very time the Prime Minister was going to the regions to talk about the legitimate issues of Russian speakers could be tended to, this kind of actions take place, and it makes you think that the military solution is what [Russia] prefers.”