In an effort to reassure NATO allies alarmed at the Kremlin’s takeover of Crimea, US Vice President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that the US was considering sending troops for war games in the Baltic states bordering Russia.
"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 in Warsaw.
President Vladimir Putin’s signature to a treaty claiming Crimea as part of Russian territory on Tuesday sparked immediate outrage from the West, with Biden denouncing it as a "land grab" and Britain suspending all military cooperation with Moscow.
Biden said, "Russia's political and economic isolation will only increase if it continues down this path and it will, in fact, see additional sanctions by the United States and the EU."
NATO member states in eastern Europe are worried that they could be next in line for Russian aggression. Ukraine is not a NATO member but Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are, and all four share borders with Russia.
Biden arrived in Lithuania later on Tuesday to reassure Baltic leaders, saying the US commitment to defending NATO allies was ``ironclad''.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry warned Russia against any military incursion into eastern Ukraine and likened the crisis over Crimea to the build-up to World War II.
Leaders condemn Russia
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said, “Russia has disregarded all calls to step back into line with international law and continues down the dangerous path. Crimea’s annexation is illegal and illegitimate and NATO allies will not recognise it.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Russia had repeatedly broken international law. "The so-called referendum breached international law; the declaration of independence which the Russian president accepted yesterday was against international law; and the absorption into the Russian Federation is, in our firm opinion, also against international law," she said.
French President François Hollande urged a "strong" response, while British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Putin had chosen the "route of isolation". Britain was also suspending all military cooperation with Russia, he added.
With Russia already risking expulsion from the G8 group of top nations, President Barack Obama on Tuesday called for a G7 summit next week in the Hague to discuss the East-West showdown.
Ukraine's interim President Oleksandr Turchinov, meanwhile, defied the referendum result, saying, "Ukraine and the entire world will never recognise the annexation of Ukrainian land."
Putin redraws borders
Putin signed the treaty with Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov and other Crimean leaders at a ceremony at the Kremlin attended by both houses of parliament.
Under the treaty, Crimea and the city of Sevastopol – the home of the Russian Black Sea fleet, which has special status – are being incorporated as new constituent parts of the Russian Federation.
With this historic redrawing of Russia's borders, Putin made clear he is shrugging off the sanctions imposed on Monday by the United States and the European Union over the fast-track seizure of Crimea, which the international community still regards as part of Ukrainian territory.
Putin is presenting the move as Crimea's return to its rightful homeland. He told a rally on Moscow’s Red Square after signing the contested treaty, “Dear Russian citizens, dear Crimeans, people of Sevastopol, after a long, exhausting trip, Crimea and Sevastopol are returning to ... their home shores, to their home port, to Russia.”
It is the first time since World War II that Moscow is expanding its borders and represents the most radical redrawing of the map of Europe since Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia.
On Monday, the EU and US slapped asset freezes and visa bans on Russian officials and Ukrainian figures involved in the Crimea referendum but the measures seemed to cause little alarm in Moscow.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)
Date created : 2014-03-18