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Barack Obama’s meeting with Ukraine’s prime minister today raises the stakes in his attempt to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions in Crimea and preempt its spread to other countries in the region.
The invitation to Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, 39, is Obama’s latest demonstration of support for the government in Kiev before a March 16 referendum in Crimea that may result in the the autonomous region joining Russia. The U.S. regards the vote as illegitimate.
Since Russia used its troops to gain dominance in Ukraine’s Crimea region last month, Obama has spoken out repeatedly and has used diplomatic pressure, authorized economic sanctions and had forces participate in military maneuvers to pressure Putin to pull back. The U.S. has yet to succeed, and the Yatsenyuk meeting presents another opportunity as well as a risk.
“As anyone who’s familiar with Russia knows, you can threaten them in private and make clear what costs they’re going to face,” said Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. “But if you want to avoid catastrophe, publicly the diplomacy should have been geared toward helping Putin climb down.”
AT this very moment, in plain view of the entire world, the final demise of the Soviet empire is unfolding. The plan for its resurrection, long in the works at the Kremlin, has failed: Ukraine has proved that it has matured into an independent state that will determine its own domestic and foreign policy.
It was when Viktor F. Yanukovych, then president, refused to listen to the pro-European yearnings of Ukrainians that the mass protests erupted in Kiev in the fall of 2013. It was when Mr. Yanukovych decided, with the active support of Russia, to resort to force that he lost control of the situation. And it was when Mr. Yanukovych crossed the line and unleashed gunfire against his own people that he lost his legitimacy as the president.
The Kremlin had a strategy designed to weaken Ukraine and its government by prying some regions away from Kiev’s control and establishing enclaves in the south and east similar to Transnistria in Moldova and Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia. Russia needs these frozen conflicts in order to prevent the normal development of the post-Soviet republics and to impede their integration into European and NATO structures.
Moscow’s plan has been foiled. The people of Ukraine proved stronger than a dictator who had been groomed for the role of a puppet ruler. The opposition quickly gained control of the situation, consolidating the authority of Parliament and legitimately appointing a new government. This prompt action calmed the protests within the country, yet it also prompted foreign aggression.
EU member states have agreed the wording of sanctions on Russia, including travel restrictions and asset freezes against those responsible for violating the sovereignty of Ukraine, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.
The seven-page document describes in detail the restrictive measures to be taken against Moscow if it does not reverse course in Crimea and begin talks with international mediators on efforts to resolve the crisis over Ukraine.
If approved by EU foreign ministers at a meeting on Monday, they would be the first sanctions imposed by the European Union against Russia since the end of the Cold War, marking a severe deterioration in East-West relations.
"Member states shall take the necessary measures to prevent the entry into, or transit through, their territories of the natural persons responsible for actions which undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine," reads Article 1 of the document.
The second article covers assets held in the European Union and states that "all funds and economic resources belonging to, owned, held or controlled" by those responsible for actions which have undermined Ukraine's integrity "shall be frozen".
The document was approved by what is known as a silence procedure after no EU member states raised objections to the wording by 1100 GMT on Wednesday, officials said.
The President and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk will discuss how to find a peaceful resolution to Russia’s ongoing military intervention in Crimea that would respect Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. They will also discuss support the international community can provide to help Ukraine confront its economic challenges, and the importance of uniting Ukraine and working to fulfill the aspirations of the Ukrainian people as they prepare for May presidential elections.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will take up a Ukrainian aid and sanctions package on Wednesday that includes changes to the International Monetary Fund opposed by some congressional Republicans.
The panel’s chairman, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said Tuesday that a markup in his committee will be held Wednesday. He also confirmed that the IMF reforms would be in the legislation.
“My hope is that that we get a bipartisan vote out of the committee on it and it will help an effort to include it as part of the Ukraine package,” Menendez told reporters on Tuesday morning.
The IMF is the biggest sticking point in the congressional response to Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine, which has prompted unusual bipartisan cooperation on Capitol Hill. But the Obama administration has frustrated congressional Republicans by pushing for the IMF changes.
Revisions agreed to by the IMF board in 2010 would reconfigure the amount of money that the United States and other countries contribute to the organization. But that change can’t be implemented without congressional approval and Republicans have raised concerns that taxpayer dollars could be at risk.
The top Republican on the Foreign Relations panel, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, signaled that there were still some issues to resolve, including IMF language.
I love heartwarming stories. Sadly, I haven't found one yet in Crimea. I'm sure there are some. But right now, there's a lot of rallying, a lot of intimidation, a lot of armed people across the peninsula, and a lot of worry ahead of Sunday's referendum. In Kiev, I loved the story we did about a volunteer nurse in Independence Square. She traveled from 10 hours away to help the fighters there. She was shot through the neck -- but survived. And is now returning to the Square. An amazing, inspiring story.