17 Mar 2014

US and EU impose sanctions on Russia after Crimea vote

America and the European Union impose asset freezes and travel bans on officials from Russia and Ukraine following the referendum in Crimea.

The Crimean parliament has formally asked to become a part of Russia after an apparent 97 per cent yes vote in the referendum, which is considered illegitimate by the US and EU.

In response, US President Barack Obama has imposed sanctions on 11 Russians and Ukrainians it blames for Ukraine’s seizure of Crimea, including ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. EU foreign ministers have drawn up a list of 21 Russian and Ukrainian officials who will be hit by travel bans and asset seizures.

Ukraine’s parliament voted to mobilise 40,000 reservists in the face of Russia’s “blatant aggression” in Crimea.

Andriy Parubiy, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, told parliament that 20,000 reservists would be deployed as part of the armed forces and the other half would serve in a newly-created national guard.

Mr Parubiy, one of the members of Ukraine’s leadership with links to far-right extremism, said that measures were now in place to prevent what has happened in Crimea spreading to Ukraine’s south eastern regions.

“What has taken place is a seizure, blatant aggression, the seizure by Russia of parts of the territory of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol,” he said.

‘Partial mobilisation’

Kiev’s move follows a referendum in Crimea on Sunday, in which it is reported that 97 per cent of people voted in favour of Crimea becoming a part of Russia. Many ethnic Tatars, who make 12 per cent of Crimea’s population, and members of the Ukrainian minority boycotted the vote.

Crimea’s regional government, which came to power during the Russian occupation of the region, formally applied to join Russia on Monday.

The referendum has been strongly criticised by western powers because it took place with just 10 days’ notice, there was a large presence of Russia troops in the country, and Ukraine’s new leadership could not get into the country.

In total, 275 members of Ukraine’s 450-seat parliament voted in favour of the “partial mobilisation”.

Kiev is hoping that the action will protect areas of Ukraine that have seen weeks of unrest in the east of the country, including Kharkiv and Donetsk – where pro-Russian protests have taken place.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he reserves the right to defend the rights of Russian-speaking Ukrainians in southern and eastern Ukraine following the installation of the pro-western government in Kiev last month. However, his foreign minister has said Moscow has no plans to invade these areas.

Russia ‘isolated’?

Meanwhile, the European Union is meeting on Monday to agree sanctions to be placed against Russian and Crimean officials.

EU foreign ministers are agreeing visa bans and asset freezes against officials deemed to be responsible for the Crimean situation. The Lithuanian foreign minister said on Monday that sanctions would be imposed against 21 officials from Ukraine and Russia.

“It’s certainly not a meaningless thing,” British Foreign Minister William Hague said.

“What happens after that will depend on Russia’s approach to this vote and whether there is a further intensification of the crisis.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said on Monday that Russia was now “isolated”.

“Russia is isolated to a large degree in its recognition of this so-called referendum,” Steffen Seibert said, pointing to a UN Security Council vote on Saturday.

In the vote thirteen members of the vote rejected the referendum as invalid. China abstained and Russia stood alone, using its power of veto.

‘Radioactive ash’

The Kremlin and the White House have issued statement saying that the US and Russia still see “diplomatic” options to resolving the impasse over Crimea.

However, the tense relationship was emphasised in a programme on Russian state television, in which a prominent television host said Russia is the only country that has the power to turn the US into “radioactive ash”.