Putin tells Obama Russia 'cannot ignore calls of help' from Crimea
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Ukraine lurched towards breakup on Thursday as lawmakers in Crimea unanimously voted to join Russia, in a dramatic escalation of the crisis that saw Russian President Putin tell US President Obama that he “cannot ignore calls for help” from Crimea.
Here is a summary of Thursday's main developments:
Obama and Putin hold phone call
Russian President Vladimir Putin told US President Barack Obama during a one-hour phone call Thursday that Russia “cannot ignore calls for help” from Crimea, according to a Kremlin statement released Friday. Putin also said that Ukraine’s new leaders, who had come to power in an anti-constitutional coup, had imposed “absolutely illegitimate decisions on the eastern, southeastern and Crimea regions”.
US President Barack Obama, meanwhile, urged Putin to accept the terms of a potential diplomatic solution to the crisis. “Russia's actions are in violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, which has led us to take several steps in response," the White House quoted Obama as saying. The Kremlin said Putin tried to calm tensions by saying US-Russian relations "should not be sacrificed due to disagreements over individual - albeit extremely significant – international problems".
EU threatens sanctions and suspends economic pact talks
The European Union suspended talks with Russia on a wide-ranging economic pact and on a visa deal, punishing Moscow for its military incursion into the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine. EU leaders made the announcement at an emergency summit and threatened further sanctions if Russia does not quickly engage in talks to end the crisis.
EU signals support for Ukraine with association pact
EU leaders agreed to sign an association accord with Ukraine before the country holds elections in May. European Union president Herman Van Rompuy said the 28 leaders reiterated the EU's commitment to signing the pact, whose rejection by pro-Russian ex-president Viktor Yanukovich triggered the protests that swept him from power last month.
US mulls sanctions and applies visa restrictions
The US brought in new visa restrictions on Russian officials and entities and some Ukrainians in Crimea who oppose the new Ukraine government in Kiev, and cleared the way for upcoming financial sanctions. Obama called on Russian troops to withdraw from Crimea, and said at a press conference, “if this violation of international law continues, the resolve of the United States ... and our allies will remain firm.”
Crimean parliament votes for referendum to endorse joining Russia
Crimea’s regional parliament voted overwhelmingly to hold a March 16 referendum on whether the region should remain in Ukraine or become part of Russia. The legislature enjoys a degree of autonomy under Ukrainian law and its members are strongly pro-Russian. There were 78 votes for the referendum, none against and eight abstentions.
Ukraine dismisses Crimea vote as ‘illegitimate’
Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk called the Crimean move to hold a referendum “illegitimate” and insisted that Crimea was and would remain an integral part of the country. Yatseniuk added that the Ukrainian military stood ready to react if Russian military intervention escalated any further in to Ukraine's territory.
Western leaders condemn Crimea referendum move
Western leaders unanimously condemned the Crimean referendum, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel calling it “illegal and incompatible with Ukraine's constitution,” and the US State Department calling it “completely illegitimate”.
Pro-Russia forces in control of Crimea
Sergei Shuvainikov, a member of the region’s legislature, said more than 11,000 pro-Russian troops now control all access points to the peninsula in the Black Sea and have blockaded all military bases that have not yet surrendered.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)
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