US issues visa bans over Crimea crisis, but insists on diplomatic solution

US to provide additional support to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission and its aviation detachment in Poland.


Afp March 06, 2014
Russian forces took de facto control of the strategically important Crimea, home to Kremlin's Black Sea Fleet, following the ouster on February 22 of Ukraine's pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

WASHINGTON: Stepping up pressure on Russia, the United States on Thursday slapped visa bans on those Russians and Ukrainians it blames for destabilising Ukraine and set the stage for more sanctions.

The White House said President Barack Obama was ordering visa bans "in response to Russia's ongoing violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

In an executive order, Obama also authorized freezing the assets of officials and individuals involved in such action.

At the same time, president Obama has also said that US would seek to work with all parties to achieve a diplomatic solution that de-escalates the situation and restores Ukraine’s sovereignty.

"This should send a strong message that we intend to impose costs on Russia for this intervention. It also gives us flexibility, however, to respond in the coming days based on Russia's continued actions," a senior US administration official said.

"We already have grave concerns over the intervention in Crimea, the situation of course could escalate further if we see actions into eastern Ukraine," the official warned, speaking on condition of anonymity.

But US officials stressed that, despite the deployment of Russian troops into Ukraine's southern Crimea peninsula, Washington had not yet seen any military moves into mainland eastern Ukraine.

Russian forces took de facto control of the strategically important Crimea, home to Kremlin's Black Sea Fleet, following the ouster on February 22 of Ukraine's pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych.

"This (executive order) is a flexible tool that will allow us to sanction those who are most directly involved in destabilising Ukraine, including the military intervention in Crimea, and does not preclude further steps should the situation deteriorate," the administration said.

Senior US officials said they were just beginning the process of looking at who would be targeted by the visa bans, but warned they would include both Ukrainians and Russians.

US Secretary of State John Kerry held a second round of talks in two days with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Thursday in a bid to de-escalate the tensions.

But Lavrov told Russian news agencies after the talks in Rome that so far "we cannot report to the international community that we are in agreement."

Angered by the show of Russian might, Washington has already pulled out of preparatory meetings for the G8 summit in Sochi.

Other steps include suspending bilateral discussions on trade and investment, the White House said.

US officials also denounced any move to split Crimea from Ukraine without involving the new interim authorities in Kiev.

Pro-Moscow officials on the Crimean peninsula announced on Thursday that hey would hold a referendum on March 17 on whether to join the Russian Federation.

"It is the belief of the United States that decisions about Crimea or any part of Ukraine need to be made with the government in Kiev," the US official shot back.

"This is a country with clearly defined borders and ultimately only the people of Ukraine can make determinations about their political future," the senior US administration official

"You can't have a situation in which the legitimate government of the country is excluded from decision-making about different parts of that country. That is clearly a violation of international law."

The White House again called on Russia "to take the opportunity before it to resolve this crisis through direct and immediate dialogue with the government of Ukraine."

It also urged the "immediate pull-back of Russia's military forces to their bases, the restoration of Ukraine's territorial integrity, and support for the urgent deployment of international observers."

NATO’s Baltic Air fleet

Reaffirming its commitment to collective defense commitment under the North Atlantic Treaty, US said it would provide additional support to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission and its aviation detachment in Poland.

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