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US imposes visa restrictions on Russian officials as Obama signs sanctions order
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US imposes visa restrictions on Russian officials
as Obama signs sanctions order
Obama signs executive order enabling further sanctions
Crimea to hold referendum on joining Russia
EU leaders holding summit to discuss sanctions
Thursday 6 March 2014 15.37 GMT
Barack Obama ramped up pressure on Russian president Vladimir Putin
on Thursday by imposing visa restrictions on officials for "threatening
the sovereignty of Ukraine” and signing an executive order enabling
further sanctions against Moscow.
The White House said the
measures were a response to Russia’s "ongoing violation of Ukraine’s
sovereignty and territorial integrity”, a reference to its intervention
in the southern peninsula of Crimea.
In Brussels, European leaders were holding an emergency meeting to decide whether to impose their own sanctions on Russia. Before the summit, the European Union
froze the assets of Ukraine’s ousted Russia-backed leader Viktor
Yanukovych and 17 other officials suspected of violations of human
rights and misuse of state funds.
Germany made clear that it
wanted to give a "political process” a chance before opting to introduce
sanctions, and the summit was likely to reserve the option of imposing
limited measures against Moscow in the event of no diplomatic
breakthrough. Officials were working to establish a "contact group” to
mediate in negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.
the Obama administration did not say how many people were subject to
the visa bans or reference their nationality. However, the targets
described as "officials and individuals” are believed to be Russians
held responsible for the week-old occupation of Crimea.
House said the visa restrictions reflected "policy decision to deny
visas to those responsible for or complicit in threatening the
sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine” and was in addition to
visa denials for figures close to the government of former president
Victor Yanukovych, over oppression of protesters.
press secretary, Jay Carney, said the additional executive order
"authorises sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for
activities undermining democratic processes or institutions in Ukraine”.
He said those included: "threatening the peace, security, stability,
sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine; contributing to the
misappropriation of state assets of Ukraine; or purporting to assert
governmental authority over any part of Ukraine without authorization
from the Ukrainian government in Kiev”.
Carney added: "Depending
on how the situation develops, the United States is prepared to consider
additional steps and sanctions as necessary.”
In Brussels the emphasis was on diplomacy. The acting Ukrainian
prime minister, Arseniy Yatseniuk, pledged that Kiev was prepared to
talk to Moscow, saying it was in favour of "cooperation, but not
surrender.” Echoing Ronald Reagan’s demand of Mikhail Gorbachev in the
1980s, he said: "Mr Putin, tear down this wall. Tear down this wall of
intimidation, of military aggression.”
He accused Russia of
being a stumbling block to launching a negotiation over Ukraine. "It
seems Russia is reluctant to hold real talks and negotiations,” he said.
EU officials said that the Brussels summit was focusing on how a
contact group could be formed. Gemany, France, Britain, Italy and Poland
would be represented, if it received a green light. But the officials
confirmed that there were splits within the EU over how to proceed.
"There are 28 member states. There’s a range of views out there,” said
Dalia Grybauskaite, the Lithuanian president,
demanded action to counter Russia’s "open and brutal aggression”. She
said: "Russia today is trying to rewrite the borders of Europe after
world war two, that is what’s going on. If we allow this to happen, next
will be somebody else. We felt in on our skin, it is our neighborhood.
This is not only about Ukraine, it is also about the Baltic region.
About sanctions, let’s first understand that Russia today is dangerous,
that Russia today is unpredictable. It’s not about to be afraid, it’s
about to stand up and say we understand it.”
But it was clear that
the bigger European powers do not want to take punitive action against
Moscow while there is a chance of mediation or negotiation. "Our
objective is to deescalate the situation,” said the EU official. "It’s a
developing situation. We did get the Russians talking and engaging.”
In Crimea, the regional government took matters into its own hands
and announced it would hold a referendum on whether it should officially
join Russia on 16 March.
a press conference in Crimean capital of Simferopol, Rustam
Temirgaliev, the region’s deputy prime minister, said the referendum was
being held purely to ratify the decision of the Crimean parliament to
join the Russian Federation, and the parliament had appealed to Russia
to assist with this.
He said the decision, which also gave the
go-ahead to the territory to begin preparations to join Russia, "comes
into effect from the current moment”. The referendum would be held "only
to confirm” the decision.
Temirgaliev said that as of Thursday,
the only legal troops on Crimean soil were the Russian army. "Any troops
of a third country will be treated as illegal band formations, with all
the consequences that entails,” he said.
Meanwhile, 40 unarmed military personnel, on a mission by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to try to defuse tensions in the region, were denied entry into Crimean territory.
OSCE confirmed that its observer mission was "prevented from entering
Crimean territory”. It said they were travelling by bus back to the city
of Kherson, where they will "hold a meeting and decide on next steps”.
Wednesday evening, the new leader of the Crimea region, Sergei
Aksyonov, said pro-Russian forces had control of all of the peninsula
and had blockaded all Ukrainian military bases yet to surrender.
In Brussels, British prime minister David Cameron, French premier François
Hollande, German chancellor Angela
Merkel and other leaders met on Thursday morning before the main EU summit to discuss a range of possible punitive economic sanctions
Later, the 15-member UN security council was due
to hold closed-door talks in New York – the fourth such consultations
The US secretary of state, John
Kerry, has threatened
Russia with isolation "diplomatically, politically and
economically” if it does not withdraw from Crimea.
administration officials said it had taken several days to draw up the
executive order authorising visa restrictions and potential economic
sanctions on Russian and Ukrainian individuals deemed to have been
involved in Russian intervention.
They also insisted their
decision predated news of plans for a referendum in the Crimea but was
designed to send a "strong message that we intend to impose costs on
The US is targeting the "assets and travel” of
individuals responsible for events in Crimea but not naming them yet
hope it will act as deterrent to future escalation, particularly in
other parts of Eastern Ukraine. "There need to be consequences,” said
one official in background call with reporters.
The White House
was critical of Russian proposals for a secession referendum in Crimea,
insisting the government in Kiev has to be involved. "We support the
territorial integrity of Ukraine as a whole,” said.
also insist they are not worried about retaliatory sanctions, claiming
Russia’s "fragile economy” has "unique vulnerability.”