Ukraine summary

From RFE/RL:

  • The heads of Russia’s parliamentary chambers have expressed support for a drive by Crimea’s pro-Moscow authorities toward leaving Ukraine and joining the Russian Federation.
  • Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has said that no one in the civilized world will recognize the results of a “so-called referendum” on Crimea joining Russia.
  • Western leaders have imposed sanctions and threatened serious consequences against Russia if it fails to deescalate the situation in Ukraine’s occupied peninsula of Crimea.
  • European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said the EU was suspending visa and cooperation negotiations with Russia and will consider asset freezes and travel bans if the Russian government does not start negotiations with Ukrainian authorities in the “next few days.”
  • The United States has imposed visa restrictions on individuals and institutions it says are “threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” A senior U.S. official said the visa bans apply to both Russian and Ukrainian officials.
  • A total of 100 people have died in violence connected to antigovernment protests that broke out in Kyiv on November 30, according to Ukraine’s Health Ministry.

An attack helicopter, believed to Russian, flies over a Russian military base at the Crimean port of Sevastopol, Ukraine March 6, 2014

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Leaders of both houses of Russia’s Parliament said on Friday that they would support a vote by Crimea to break away from Ukraine and become a new region of the Russian Federation, the first public signal that the Kremlin was backing the secessionist move that Ukraine, the United States and other countries have denounced as a violation of international law.

Russia also raised pressure on the financially stressed interim central government in Kiev, which Russia has refused to recognize since the pro-Kremlin former president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, fled last month. Gazprom, the Russian energy company that supplies Ukraine with gas, warned it might shut off exports unless Ukraine paid $1.89 billion that it owes. “We cannot deliver gas for free,” Russia news agencies quoted Gazprom’s chief executive Alexei Miller as saying.

Gazprom cut gas to Ukraine for nearly two weeks in January 2009, causing severe economic problems for Ukraine and European customers who depend on Gazprom supplies delivered via Ukraine pipelines.

Valentina I. Matviyenko, the chairwoman of the upper house, the Federation Council, compared the Crimea secession vote to a scheduled referendum in Scotland on whether to become independent from Britain, omitting the fact that London has agreed to the ballot. Ukraine’s new interim leaders have fiercely opposed splintering the country.

The speaker of the lower house, Sergei Y. Naryshkin, echoed Ms. Matviyenko’s remarks.

“We will respect the historic choice of the people of Crimea,” he said.

The remarks by the leaders, both close political allies of President Vladimir V. Putin, came a day after Crimea’s regional assembly voted behind closed doors to secede from Ukraine and to hold a referendum on March 16 for voters in the region to ratify the decision. On Friday a delegation of lawmakers from Crimea arrived in Moscow to lay the groundwork for joining Russia, winning strong endorsements from senior lawmakers.

“We admire your fortitude and courage,” Ms. Matviyenko told them, according to Interfax news agency. “Many threats have been made against you; there were threats of attacks, in particular, against the Black Sea Fleet, but you endured that and protected your people.”

In another telling sign of official Russian support for the Crimean referendum, delegation representatives were cheered at a “We are together” rally organized in central Moscow that was shown at length on state television, with songs and chants of “Russia, Moscow, Crimea.” News agencies quoted the police as saying the rally was attended 60,000 people.

The developments underscored how quickly the crisis was evolving. Only three days earlier, Mr. Putin said he did not foresee the possibility of Crimea becoming part of Russia, though he cited the independence of Kosovo as a precedent. “We will in no way provoke any such decision and will not breed such sentiments,” he said.

The Kremlin has not yet directly addressed the possibility of Crimea’s secession. Even if the referendum proceeds as planned and Crimea residents approve, it remains unclear what would happen next.

The move to break away from Ukraine was swiftly denounced by the fledgling national government in Kiev, which said it would invalidate the decision and dissolve the Crimean Parliament, and by President Obama in Washington, where the United States government on Thursday announced sanctions in response to Russia’s military occupation of the Crimean Peninsula.

“Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine,” Mr. Obama said at the White House. “In 2014, we are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders.”

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