President Barack Obama told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday the United States rejected the results of a secession referendum in Ukraine’s Crimea region and warned that Washington was ready to impose sanctions on Moscow over the crisis.
With Washington and its European allies expected to slap “targeted” punitive measures on Russian officials as early as Monday, the White House said Obama made clear to Putin that the dispute could still be resolved diplomatically but that Russia first must halt military incursions into Ukrainian territory.
Confirming what was considered a foregone conclusion in Sunday’s hastily called referendum in Crimea, a region with a Russian-speaking majority, regional authorities said that with over half the vote counted 95.5 percent had chosen the option of annexation of the strategic peninsula by Moscow.
The regional government in Crimea, now controlled by Russian forces, went ahead with the ballot despite fierce US and European opposition, underscoring the West’s limited leverage in the worst standoff of its kind since the end of the Cold War.
“He (Obama) emphasized that Russia’s actions were in violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and that, in coordination with our European partners, we are prepared to impose additional costs on Russia for its actions,” the White House said in a summary of Obama’s telephone call with Putin.
Obama suggested to Putin that the referendum was a sham carried out “under duress of Russian military intervention” and Washington and the international community would never accept the results, the White House said.
According to the Kremlin, Putin told Obama the referendum on union with Russia was legitimate the two leaders agreed on the need to cooperate to stabilize Ukraine. The readouts of the call from both capitals spoke of the need to deploy international monitors to Ukraine.
Amid accusations from Republican critics that Obama had not shown enough resolve against Putin, the US administration appeared intent on proving it was not bluffing over its threat of consequences for the seizure of Crimea.
US options to prevent Russian from formally absorbing the strategic region are few. But some officials in Washington are hopeful that instead of pressing ahead with such a provocative action, Putin may hold off for now, seeking to avoid further escalation of the crisis.
White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said the administration would step up pressure on Russia. “You can expect sanctions designations in the coming days,” Pfeiffer told NBC’s “Meet the Press,” as the administration prepared to identify Russians whom the United States will seek to punish with visa bans and asset freezes the president authorized earlier this month.
A US sanctions announcement is expected on Monday, and foreign ministers from the European continued…