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People march in support of Putin in Moscow. The board

US threatens to isolate Russia for Ukraine aggression

Washington, March 2, 2014

US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday condemned Russia's "incredible act of aggression" in Ukraine and threatened "very serious repercussions" from the US and other countries, including sanctions to isolate Russia economically.

"You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text," Kerry told the CBS program "Face the Nation."

Kerry, however, added that Russia still has "a right set of choices" that can be made to defuse the crisis.

"It's an incredible act of aggression. It is really a stunning, willful choice by President (Vladimir) Putin to invade another country. Russia is in violation of the sovereignty of Ukraine. Russia is in violation of its international obligations," Kerry added.

Kerry said US President Barack Obama told Putin in a 90-minute phone call on Saturday that "there will be serious repercussions if this stands. The president ... told Mr Putin that it was imperative to find a different path, to roll back this invasion and un-do this act of invasion."

Kerry said G8 nations and some other countries are "prepared to go to the hilt to isolate Russia" with a "broad array of options" available.

"They're prepared to put sanctions in place, they're prepared to isolate Russia economically, the ruble is already going down. Russia has major economic challenges," Kerry said, as he also mentioned visa bans, asset freezes and trade isolation as possible steps.

Kerry's comments came amid a chorus of condemnation from Washington and its allies. Putin obtained permission from his parliament on Saturday to use military force to protect Russian citizens in Ukraine, spurning Western pleas not intervene.

Russian forces have already bloodlessly seized Crimea - an isolated Black Sea peninsula where Moscow has a naval base.

Meanwhile, Nato's secretary-general also warned Moscow it was threatening peace in Europe with its seizure of Crimea and should "de-escalate tensions", but diplomats said the alliance was unlikely to agree on major steps to rein Russia in.

Speaking moments before chairing an emergency meeting of Nato ambassadors, Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that Russia's actions in Ukraine could destabilise the continent.

"What Russia is doing now in Ukraine violates the principles of the United Nations charter," Rasmussen told reporters before a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, made up of the permanent representatives to the 28-nation military alliance.

"It threatens peace and security in Europe. Russia must stop its military activities and its threats."

Despite the strong words, diplomats said they did not expect Nato to agree on significant measures to pressure Russia, with the West struggling to come up with a forthright response that does not risk pushing the region closer to military conflict.

The stand-off has created the greatest moment tension between Russia and the West since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, an event Russian President Vladimir Putin has described as the geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.

Moscow has said it is merely protecting the lives of Russian-speaking nationals, and appears to be calculating that the West will not risk a wider conflagration by taking anything approaching military action against it.

While Ukraine is associated to Nato, it is not a member and therefore cannot invoke the alliance's most powerful diplomatic tool, known as Article 5, which states that an attack against one member is an attack against all.


Given those limitations, diplomats and military experts said the most that could be expected might be that the US would move some warships into the Black Sea, an action it could undertake unilaterally, rather than under Naro's auspices.

Several NATO and European Union member states depend on Russia for energy, giving them geopolitical reasons for wanting to maintain decent relations with Moscow, even if they deplore its actions in Ukraine.

If the West fails to find a way to bring pressure to bear on Russia, it could do itself lasting damage.

"If the Russians take over Crimea, it would humiliate the West and show it to be a paper tiger, unwilling to protect a European country against outside aggression," said Tim Ripley, a military expert with Jane's Defence Weekly magazine.
 "It would give the Russians huge territorial waters to control the Black Sea ... it would be a massive humiliation."


Short of a military response, the most likely steps Nato could take include cutting cooperation with Russia, with which it has frequent contact at ministerial level and has conducted joint military exercises.

Political or economic sanctions against Moscow could also be an option, but that would be the primary responsibility of the UN, where Russia has a veto on the Security Council, or else the EU or US acting in consort.

"The most effective support NATO members could give Ukraine would be financial sanctions against Russia, refusing to buy its oil and gas," said Ripley, laying out a high-risk strategy.

"It's a chicken or egg question. Do they need money more than we need their oil and gas?"

Alternatively, the West could move to isolate Russia, which will host the G8 summit in Sochi in June. Already four G8 members have suspended preparations for the gathering.

"If the G8 expels the Russians and turns itself into a G7, that would hurt Putin's self-esteem," said Nick Witney of the European Council on Foreign Relations. - Reuters

Tags: US | Russia | Nato | Ukraine |


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