“Russia is on the wrong side of history,” Obama said, declaring that the world was all but united in viewing Moscow’s dispatch of troops to Crimea as a violation of international law.
A day before Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Kiev to show US backing for Ukraine’s right to chart its own future, Washington expanded on the “costs” Russia may have to pay for its action.
It pointed to the sharp decline of the ruble as evidence Russia was already paying a heavy price and Obama asked Congress to put an economic support package for Ukraine on the top of its agenda.
“What cannot be done is for Russia, with impunity, to put its soldiers on the ground and violate basic principles that are recognized around the world,” Obama said.
“What we are also indicating to the Russians is that if, in fact, they continue on the current trajectory that they’re on, that we are examining a whole series of steps, economic, diplomatic that will isolate Russia.”
Obama said that after his round of calls to European leaders he was convinced the world was “largely united” in the belief that Russia had violated Ukraine’s territorial integrity and international law.
At the State Department, spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said Washington was prepared to “move forward” on sanctions against Russia and that US calls for action were already having an impact.
“If you look at the sharp decline of the Russian ruble, if you look at the Russian stock market today, those are just two examples,” she said.
Psaki said there was no time-frame yet for when the United States could impose sanctions, but added “we’re looking at a broad range of options, whether that’s individuals, whether that’s institutions, whether that’s officials, those are all under consideration.”
Possible options include visa bans or asset freezes on members of Russia’s political and financial elite. Steps could also be taken against some Russian financial institutions.
Obama hinted that. after already suspending cooperation with Russia on G8 matters, US partners would boycott the group’s summit in the Russian resort of Sochi in June.
As Russia appeared to tighten its grip on the Crimea peninsula, the State Department warned any Russian attack on Ukrainian forces in the southern region would be a “dangerous” escalation.
US officials said they were working to nail down reports that Moscow’s forces had warned Ukranian troops to surrender or face attacks.
Kerry was due to leave Washington later Monday to travel to Kiev in a show of support for the interim leadership which took over from ousted president Viktor Yanukovych.
Kerry had also said last week that he would meet with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of talks due to be held on Wednesday in Rome.
But with the escalation of tensions in the southern Crimea peninsula over the weekend, Psaki said Kerry’s schedule during his trip to Rome and Paris was still unconfirmed though did not rule out a meeting between the two ministers.
Washington is also pushing for a meeting of the four signatories of a 1994 Budapest agreement under which Ukraine agreed to give up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons in exchange for guarantees over its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The United States, Russia, Britain and Ukraine are all signatories to the treaty.
On Capitol Hill, key lawmakers were pushing for the swift passage of a US economic support package for Ukraine.
A frequent Obama critic, Republican Senator John McCain said sending US forces to the region would be unthinkable, butll accused Obama of failing to stand up to Putin.
“The president of the United States believes that the Cold War is over,” McCain said. “That’s fine, it is over — but Putin doesn’t believe it’s over.”