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US Vice-President rushes to Europe, reassures allies on Russia’s borders

East Europe anxious after Russia ‘land grab’ in Crimea; US considers sending troops to Baltic states

People at a rally in support of Crimea joining Russia, celebrate holding Russian flags at Red Square in Moscow Tuesday. AP People at a rally in support of Crimea joining Russia, celebrate holding Russian flags at Red Square in Moscow Tuesday. AP

The United States is considering sending troops for war games in the Baltic states bordering Russia, Vice-President Joe Biden said Tuesday in an effort to reassure NATO allies alarmed at the Kremlin’s intervention in Ukraine.

Moscow’s despatch of troops to Ukraine’s Crimea region and its unilateral declaration that the area is now part of Russia have left NATO member states in eastern Europe worried that they could be next in line.

In the Polish capital on the first leg of a two-day trip to the region, Biden condemned Russia’s actions in Crimea as a land grab, and he said NATO’s commitment to protect any of its members from attack was unwavering.

He also said the United States would work on reducing the dependence of eastern European states on imported Russian fuel, a relationship that, US officials say, the Kremlin uses as a tool of political influence.

Biden’s suggestion of sending US troops for military exercises in the Baltics, if it is implemented, would represent the strongest concrete evidence to date of Washington’s resolve in backing up its NATO allies on Russia’s doorstep.

“We are exploring a number of additional steps to increase the pace and scope of our military cooperation including rotating US forces to the Baltic region to conduct ground and naval exercises and training missions,” Biden told reporters after talks with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who was visiting Warsaw.

Earlier, at a briefing alongside Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Biden described Russia’s actions as an assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty and a violation of international law.

“Russia has offered a variety of arguments to justify what is nothing more than a land grab,” Biden said. “But the world has seen through Russia’s actions and rejected the logic, the flawed logic, behind those actions.”

Russia said it sent troops to Crimea to protect Russian residents, who it said were in danger in the unrest that followed toppling of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president. A referendum in Crimea Sunday backed union with Russia, though the West called that vote a Moscow-orchestrated sham.

Biden said the events in Crimea were a reminder to NATO members that they need to stand together.
The three Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, are in NATO and the EU. Yet they are particularly vulnerable to any Russian action. They are small, they depend on Russia for energy and trade, and they have sizeable Russian-speaking minorities.

Gorbachev: Crimean vote ‘happy event’

MOSCOW: Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has hailed Crimea’s vote to join Russia as a “happy event”. Gorbachev said in remarks carried Tuesday by online newspaper Slon.ru that the vote offered the Crimean residents the freedom of choice and justly reflected their will. He said Sunday’s referendum showed that “people really wanted to return to Russia” and was a “happy event”. Gorbachev added that the Crimean referendum has set an example for people in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, who also should decide their fate. Gorbachev, who resigned as the Soviet president on Christmas Day 1991, has voiced regret that he was unable to stem the Soviet Union’s collapse. He has criticized President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian policy, but said Tuesday that he supports his course in the Ukrainian crisis. AP

Ukraine threatens to seize Russian assets

Kiev: Ukraine ratcheted up its stand-off with the Kremlin Tuesday by threatening to nationalise Russian property in response to Crimea’s claims to its own assets in the breakaway Black Sea peninsula. Ukraine’s Justice Minister Pavlo Petrenko called the measures illegal and warned Russia that it faced reprisals should it back Crimea’s moves. “If the Russian Federation officially recognises (Crimea’s) actions, then Ukraine reserves the right to take adequate steps to compensate these losses at the expense of property belonging to the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine and in other states,” Petrenko said. “We are going to do this in strict accordance with Ukrainian and international law.” PTI

PUTIN SPEAK

ON CRIMEA

“It was impossible to imagine that Ukraine and Russia could not be together. That they could be in separate states. But that is what happened. What seemed impossible, unfortunately occurred. The USSR broke up. The events happened so fast that few citizens understood the full-scale of the trauma of the events and their consequences.”

“Millions of Russians went to sleep in one country and woke up in a foreign country – part became ethnic minorities in former Soviet republics. One of the most divided people on earth. Today, after many years, I heard how Crimeans not long ago said that in the 1990s they were passed from hand to hand like sacks of potatoes.”

“The (Crimean) issue has a vital importance, a historic importance for all of us … In the hearts and minds of people, Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia.”

ON UKRAINE

“Our souls are aching over what is happening in Ukraine. We are one people. We simply cannot exist without one another.”

“Don’t believe those who try to frighten you with Russia and who scream that other (Ukrainian) regions will follow after Crimea. We do not want a partition of Ukraine, we do not need this.”

“Relations with Ukraine, the brotherly Ukrainian people, have always been, remain and will always be the most important and key for us, without any exaggeration.”

ON THE WEST

“Western partners, led by the United States, prefer not to be guided by international law in their practical policies, but by the rule of the gun … They have come to believe in their exceptionalism and their sense of being the chosen ones. That they can decide the destiny of the world, that it is only them who can be right.”

“In the case of Ukraine, our Western partners have crossed the line, have behaved themselves in a rude, irresponsible and unprofessional manner.”

“Some Western politicians are already trying to frighten us not only with sanctions but with the prospect of worsening internal problems…”

“We will never ourselves aim at confrontation with our partners neither in the East, nor in the West.”

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