Posts Tagged Angela Merkel

Merkel Calls for Security Council Reform To Reflect 21st Century Realities

Angela MerkelIt is now time that the United Nations Security Council is reformed to reflect the real distribution of power across the world in the 21st century, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday.

“We need a new method of work to solve problems,” Merkel said. “That makes reform of the Security Council necessary, reform which reflects the real power in the world better than the situation today.”

The appeal was in a summary of Merkel’s opening remarks at a meeting with her counterparts from Brazil, India and Japan provided to reporters by the German delegation.

“We have to proceed very wisely,” she added, according to the summary. “We have to find allies to reach our goal of reform.”

Merkel is in New York for a summit meeting of world leaders on global development at the U.N. General Assembly.

The Security Council, the most powerful U.N. body, has 15 members, five of them permanent. It has the ability to issue legally binding resolutions imposing sanctions or authorizing military action to enforce its decisions.

The 10 temporary members are elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly.

Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, key allies from World War Two, are permanent veto-wielding council members.

Germany, Japan, India and Brazil say the world is very different from what it was in 1945 and the Security Council should reflect that. Germany and Japan, which are global financial powers and top contributors to the United Nations, argue that they deserve permanent council seats.

“The current atmosphere is that not only we four but many others don’t agree with the structure and the working method of the Security Council,” Merkel told the other leaders. “We want to take others with us to reach a modern working structure of the Security Council which suits the 21st century.”

The goal of expanding the council to include additional permanent and temporary members has long been an elusive one. Many U.N. member states routinely call for Security Council reform and have been working for decades, so far unsuccessfully, to find an acceptable formula for expanding the council.

The five permanent council members can block any such moves. Britain and France say they support council reform. The United States has also cautiously backed it. U.N. diplomats say China, and to a lesser extent Russia, are the principal opponents of the idea.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s popularity has dropped sharply over her handling of the refugee crisis, two polls showed on Saturday, indicating a shift in the mood in Europe’s most populous country towards the record influx of new arrivals.

Berlin expects at least 800,000 economic migrants and war refugees this year alone. While some Germans warmly welcome people fleeing conflict in the Middle East and Africa, others are concerned about how easily they can be integrated.

In a survey published in Der Spiegel magazine and conducted by pollster TNS Forschung, Merkel’s support dropped five points to 63 percent compared to the previous ranking three months ago.

For the first time in Merkel’s third term in office, a leading member of her junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats, topped the list of popular politicians. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier got 67 percent approval.

Merkel’s Bavarian ally Horst Seehofer, who has said she was wrong to let Syrian refugees stuck in Hungary come to Germany, saw his approval rating jump 6 points to 44 percent.

Another poll for ZDF television showed Merkel’s popularity fell to 1.9 from 2.4 two weeks earlier, with support being measured on a scale between -5 and 5.

While roughly three out of four Germans still say Merkel is doing a good job all in all, her refugee and asylum policies are being viewed more critically, the ZDF Politbarometer showed.

Half of those polled were content with Merkel’s refugee policy while nearly as many, 43 percent, disagreed with the chancellor’s approach, the survey said.




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President Obama and E.U. Partners Agree New Tougher Sanctions on Russia

SanctionsPresident Obama on Tuesday announced expanded U.S. sanctions on Russia, joining the European Union in a coordinated effort to use Russia’s economy as leverage to compel Moscow to stop fuelling the deadly conflict in Ukraine.

“Russia is once again isolating itself from the international community,” Obama said, claiming that the U.S. sanctions will have an “even bigger bite” thanks to action by the Europeans.

The coordinated sanctions by the U.S. and European Union were aimed at increasing pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to end his country’s support for separatists in eastern Ukraine whom the West blames for taking down a Malaysian airliner nearly two weeks ago. Obama and U.S. allies also warned that Russia was building up troops and weaponry along its border with Ukraine.

Europe’s actions were particularly significant given that the continent has a far stronger economic relationship with Russia than the U.S. does. Until this week, the EU sanctions had lagged behind American penalties, in part because of leaders’ concerns about a negative impact on their own economies.

But Europe’s calculus shifted sharply after a surface-to-air missile brought down the passenger jet, killing nearly 300 people including more than 200 Europeans. The new European penalties include an arms embargo on Moscow and a ban on the unapproved sale to the Russians of technology that has dual military and civilian uses or is particularly sensitive, such as advanced equipment used in deep-sea and Arctic oil drilling.

Obama said the U.S. sanctions would hit the finance, arms and energy sectors of Russia’s economy. Among the U.S. sanctions, according to the Treasury Department, are U.S. penalties that target the Bank of Moscow, the Russian Agricultural Bank and VTB Bank. Also listed on the Treasury designation is the United Shipbuilding Corp., which is based in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Obama said the U.S. is also blocking the export of certain goods and technologies to the Russian energy sector, and suspending credit “that encourages exports to Russia and financing for economic development projects in Russia.”

In making the case for the additional steps, Obama said Russia has continued to support the separatists, “and encourage them and train them and arm them.” He said forces inside Russia are launching artillery strikes into Ukraine, which he called a “major violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.”

He also said Russia continues to build up its own forces near the border.

The new EU sanctions mirror steps announced by the U.S. the day before the Malaysian airliner was shot out of the sky. The White House has been pressing Europe in recent days to bring its penalties in line with the U.S., both to increase the economic pressure on Moscow and present a united Western front.


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Germany Demands Action Over More U.S. Spying Allegations

GermanyGerman-U.S. relations are facing a new test over a German intelligence employee who reportedly spied for the U.S., with Germany’s president saying if the allegations are true, that kind of spying on allies must stop.

Prosecutors say a 31-year-old German was arrested last week on suspicion of spying for foreign intelligence services, and that he allegedly handed over 218 documents between 2012 and 2014. German media, without naming sources, have reported he was an employee of Germany’s foreign intelligence service who says he sold his services to the U.S.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador Friday to help clarify the case. The country’s top security official stepped up the pressure Sunday.

“I expect everyone now to assist quickly in clearing up the accusations, and quick and clear statements, from the USA too,” Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere was quoted as saying in Bild newspaper.

The issue threatens to strain German-U.S. relations again after earlier reports that the National Security Agency spied on Germans, including on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.

If it turns out the U.S. “gave this kind of assignment to one of our intelligence employees, then it really has to be said: That’s enough now,” President Joachim Gauck said on ZDF television.

The head of a parliamentary committee investigating the activities of U.S. and allied spies, Patrick Sensburg, said he has no information that documents from the panel were spied on, but government documents destined for the committee may have been.

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the NSA have declined to comment.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said at a book presentation in Berlin it’s “a serious issue.”

“Let’s find out what the facts are and then let’s act appropriately, but also try to be careful not to undermine the necessary cooperation which exists between us,” she said.

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UKIP Leader Nigel Farage on why he admires Vladimir Putin

Nigel Farage Visits PragueVladimir Putin is the world leader who is most admired by the head of Britain’s anti-European Union party because of the Russian president’s “brilliant” handling of the Syria crisis, Nigel Farage said in an interview published on Monday.

“The way he played the whole Syria thing. Brilliant. Not that I approve of him politically. How many journalists in jail now?” the head of Britain’s UK Independence Party (UKIP) was quoted as saying.

Putin has kept Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power, repeatedly blocked U.N. attempts to condemn him and supplied arms for the government side in a civil war in which over 100,000 people have died.

Farage also derided German chancellor Angela Merkel, calling her “miserable” and “cold”.

The most powerful female politician in the world got short shrift from Farage, who said: “She is incredibly cold. I always say – I agree this is a bit rude – but whatever you think of the public image of Merkel, in private she is even more miserable.”

Speaking to Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alistair Campbell for GQ magazine, Farage explained: “I warm to more extrovert people.”

Britain’s top politicians also got a verbal lashing from the 49-year-old former trader. Labour’s leader Ed Miliband was described as “unworldly”; PM David Cameron as a “perfectly nice fellow who stands four square for nothing”; while Nick Clegg was “just wrong”.

Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who last week went head-to-head with Farage in a televised policy debate about Europe, heavily criticised Farage’s comments.

“I just think it’s utterly grotesque that Nigel Farage apparently admires… Vladimir Putin, who has been the chief sponsor and protector of one of the most brutal dictators of the face of the planet, President Assad,” Clegg told reporters.

Farage, a former commodities trader who revels in stoking controversy, has lambasted the EU for its handling of the Ukraine crisis, saying the bloc had provoked Russia into intervention in its neighbour and had “blood on its hands”.

Those comments also drew censure from Britain’s political establishment, which accused Farage of being an apologist for Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea Russian-majority region after mass protests toppled Ukraine’s pro-Russian president.

Western countries say Russia’s annexation of Crime is illegal under international law and have imposed punitive sanctions on Moscow.


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Obama extends sanctions against Russia to include wealthy Putin allies

U.S. President Barack Obama raised the stakes in an East-West confrontation over Crimea on Thursday by targeting some of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest long-time political and business allies with personal sanctions.

The extension of visa bans and asset freezes into Putin’s inner circle came as Moscow rushed to consolidate the annexation of the Black Sea peninsula, seized from Ukraine last month, and to boost its military presence in the region.

Russian troops took over three Ukrainian warships in Crimea on Thursday, using stun grenades in one incident, a Ukrainian spokesman said. Kiev also said it had begun withdrawing its border guards, surrounded and outnumbered by Russian forces, from Crimea to the mainland.

The 20 names added to the U.S. blacklist included Kremlin banker Yuri Kovalchuk and his Bank Rossiya, major oil and commodities trader Gennady Timchenko and the brothers Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, linked to big contracts on gas pipelines and at the Sochi Olympics, as well as Putin’s chief of staff and his deputy, the head of military intelligence and a railways chief.

Most grew rich after being associated with Putin since the former KGB officer began his ascent to power in the mayor’s office of St Petersburg in the 1990s.

In a statement explaining the sanctions, the U.S. Treasury said: “Gennady Timchenko is one of the founders of Gunvor, one of the world’s largest independent commodity trading companies involved in the oil and energy markets.

“Timchenko’s activities in the energy sector have been directly linked to Putin. Putin has investments in Gunvor and may have access to Gunvor funds.”

Putin has denied any link with Gunvor in the past. The Swiss-based oil trading firm said in a statement that Putin had no ownership of Gunvor and “any understanding otherwise is fundamentally misinformed and outrageous”.

Moscow reacted by announcing its own sanctions against senior U.S. politicians in retaliation against visa bans and asset freezes imposed by Washington on its citizens, with the foreign ministry saying U.S. action would “hit the United States like a boomerang”.

European Union leaders were meeting in Brussels to step up their own measures against Russia. Officials said that while the EU would add a dozen names to its sanctions list and cancel a planned EU-Russia summit in Sochi, it would not go as far as Washington in hitting Putin’s money men.

“We will be a step behind the Americans,” a senior European diplomat said.

Russian forces took control of Crimea in late February after Moscow-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich was toppled by protests sparked by his decision to spurn a trade deal with the EU and seek closer ties with Moscow. The seizure has been mostly bloodless.

People in Crimea voted overwhelmingly to join Russia in a referendum last Sunday which Kiev and the West have refused to recognise.

Only one member of Russia’s State Duma lower house of parliament voted against ratifying the annexation treaty on Thursday. The Federation Council upper house will complete the ratification process on Friday.

With Washington trying to tighten the screws on Moscow, Putin told Russian company bosses to bring their assets home to help the nation survive the sanctions and an economic downturn.

In a potentially ominous move, Obama said he had signed a new executive order that clears the way for U.S. sanctions against broad sections of the Russian economy, should Putin’s military make moves beyond Crimea and into southern and eastern Ukraine which also have large Russian-speaking populations.

“We’re imposing sanctions on more senior officials of the Russian government,” he said. “In addition, we are today sanctioning a number of other individuals with substantial resources and influence who provide material support to the Russian leadership, as well as a bank that provides material support to these individuals.”

Washington announced a first round of sanctions against 11 Russians and Ukrainians it said were involved with the Crimean annexation on Monday. A U.S. official said the sanctions mean Bank Rossiya – which has $10 billion in assets – would be “frozen out of the dollar”.

Those on the Russian list included former U.S. presidential candidate Senator John McCain, Senate majority leader Harry Reid and House of Representatives speaker John Boehner.

Like their Russian counterparts, the U.S. lawmakers laughed off the sanctions or treated them as badge of honour.

McCain laced his response with sarcasm. “I guess this means my spring break in Siberia is off, my Gazprom stock is lost, and my secret bank account in Moscow is frozen,” he said in a statement. “Nonetheless, I will never cease my efforts on behalf of the freedom, independence, and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Crimea.”

Obama trumped European leaders for the second time in a week by announcing tougher measures than they were planning just as they sat down to try to resolve their differences on sanctions.

While Poland and former Soviet Baltic states that are now EU members have pushed for a touch line, the main EU powers – Germany, France and Britain – all have strong economic reasons for caution.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told parliament in Berlin that the 28 EU leaders would show they are ready to ramp up punitive measures in a staged response against Russian officials and move to economic sanctions if Putin went further.

“The EU summit today and tomorrow will make clear that we are ready at any time to introduce phase-3 measures if there is a worsening of the situation,” she said.

Some diplomats read her statement as an implicit recognition that Crimea was lost, and that only further steps by Russia to destabilise Ukraine or intervene in other post-Soviet republics would trigger sanctions that could hurt convalescing Western economies as well as Moscow’s.

Some of Russia’s largest companies are registered abroad where they may benefit from lower tax rates but also may enjoy some distance from the Kremlin and feel beyond its reach.

Without referring to the annexation of Crimea or to slowing economic growth, Putin said it would also be in the bosses’ interests to support the Russian economy.

“Russian companies should be registered on the territory of our nation, in our country and have a transparent ownership structure,” Putin told heads of Russia’s largest companies. “I am certain that this is also in your interests.”


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Military Confrontation Edging Ever Closer in Ukraine

Ukraine militaryWashington warned Russia on Thursday it was preparing a “very serious” response together with Europe to a breakaway vote in Ukraine’s Crimea region that has sparked the most explosive East-West standoff  since the Cold War.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia needed to show immediate flexibility over the Black Sea peninsula’s Sunday referendum on switching over to Kremlin rule — a vote backed by Moscow but not recognized by Kiev or much of the international community.

“If there is no sign of any capacity to be able to move forward and resolve this issue, there will be a very serious series of steps on Monday in Europe and here with respect to the options that are available to us,” Kerry told lawmakers in Washington.

His blunt comments came shortly after Ukraine’s parlaiment voted to set up a huge volunteer force that could keep Russian troops from advancing beyond the region of two million people they seized at the start of the month.

Russia launched its own military manoeuvres at its neighbour’s doorstep and also dispatched fighter jets to Belarus in a show of military muscle that betrayed no willingness to compromise.

The suddenly tangible danger of war breaking out on the EU’s eastern border prompted German Chancellor Angela Merkel to tell Russian President Vladimir Putin his country faced long-term political and economic damage unless he showed an immediate willingness to compromise.

US President Barack Obama had a day earlier also thrown his full weight behind Ukraine’s new pro-European leaders in their Cold War-style standoff with the Kremlin.

National Security and Defence Council chief Andriy Parubiy said Ukraine’s new 60,000-strong National Guard would “ensure state security, defend the borders, and eliminate terrorist groups” — a term many in Kiev use to describe the well-armed militias who patrol Crimea alongside Russian troops.

Ukraine’s conventional army of 130,000 soldiers — half of them conscripts with ageing equipment — is dwarfed by a 845,000-strong Russian force that is backed by nuclear arms.

Russia’s tanks and artillery units were training on Thursday across three regions neighbouring Ukraine while 4,000 paratroopers began performing drills in the central region of Rostov.

The Russian defence ministry refused to disclose details about the size of the operations but noted that units were “increasing the intensity of field training exercises”.

Moscow also confirmed sending six fighters and three transport jets to Belarus in response to NATO’s decision to start flying reconnaissance aircraft over Poland and Romania as part of the Western military alliance’s attempts to monitor the movement of Russian troops.

Austrian police meanwhile announced the arrest of Ukranian tycoon Dmytro Firtash, one of the top backers of the ousted pro-Kremlin regime, on suspicion of bribery and forming a criminal organisation.

The flaring crisis between two of the former Soviet Union’s biggest states was sparked by the ouster last month of a pro-Kremlin regime that in November rejected an historic EU deal that would have pulled Kiev out of the Kremlin’s orbit for the first time.

The more nationalist and Western-leaning team that rose to power on the back of a bloody popular revolt is viewed with derision by Putin and increasing warmth by Washington and EU states.

Putin’s March 1 decision to order troops into Crimea for the “protection” of the Russian-speaking majority there now threatens to invite a host of political and economic sanctions that could leave the Kremlin more isolated from the West than at any point since the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

Merkel, a fluent Russian speaker whose upbringing in Communist East Germany shaped both her cautious approach to Moscow and understanding of the importance of keeping relations with the Kremlin on track, delivered her most ominous warning to date in an appearance before the German parliament.

“If Russia continues its course of the last weeks, it would not only be a catastrophe for Ukraine,” the German chancellor told the chamber.

“It would not only change the relationship of the European Union as a whole to Russia. No, it would also, and I am firmly convinced of this, massively damage Russia both economically and politically.”

Merkel accused Russia of using the “failed” expansionist tactics of the previous two centuries.

Russia’s parliament is still due to consider legislation next week simplifying the process for the annexation of Crimea — a strong possibility after the Black Sea region holds a referendum on Sunday on becoming a formal part of the Russian Federation.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) — a respected policy forum for wealthy democracies — meanwhile said it was postponing the process for Russia to join the 34-member group.

The European Union is due to debate travel bans and asset freezes on Monday against Russian officials held responsible for threatening Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

The White House has been moving towards punitive measures faster than its European allies — their financial and energy sectors intertwined tightly with Russia — and has already approved visa restrictions and financial penalties on Moscow officials.

Obama told Ukraine’s visiting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Wednesday that Washington was willing to move much further still if Putin failed to soften his stance immediately.

“There’s another path available and we hope President Putin is willing to seize that path,” Obama told reporters after awarding Yatsenyuk, whose legitimacy Putin rejects, the honour of a government leader by meeting him in the Oval Office.

“But if he does not, I’m very confident that the international community will stand firmly behind the Ukrainian government.”

US officials say Moscow will have its best chance to show a willingness to compromise and avert even more punishing Western measures on Friday during talks in London between Kerry and Russian Foreign Sergei Lavrov.

But Russia has so far shown no willingness to either call back its troops or reconsider its support for a referendum that both Kiev and much of the global community view as illegitimate.

The White House said on Sunday that even Moscow’s key diplomatic ally Beijing supported Ukraine’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity” after talks between Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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President Obama meets Ukraine’s Prime Minister Yatseniuk – Europe Steps Up Sanctions Threat.

Obama and Prime Minister YatsenyukThe European Union agreed on a framework on Wednesday for its first sanctions on Russia since the Cold War, a stronger response to the Ukraine crisis than many expected and a mark of solidarity with Washington in the drive to make Moscow pay for seizing Crimea.

U.S. President Barack Obama warned Russia it faced costs from the West unless it changed course in Ukraine, and pledged to “stand with Ukraine” as he met with the country’s new prime minister in Washington.

“We will never surrender,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk vowed as he and Obama met in a White House show of support for the embattled leader.

“Mr. Putin – tear down this wall – the wall of more intimidation and military aggression,” Yatseniuk told reporters in remarks aimed at Russian President Vladimir Putin and a reference to then-President Ronald Reagan’s challenge to the Soviet Union in a 1987 speech at the Berlin Wall.

But Obama and Yatseniuk outlined a potential diplomatic opening that could give Russians a greater voice in the disputed Crimean region, where a referendum is scheduled for Sunday on whether it should become part of Russia.

Yatseniuk told a forum in Washington after his White House meeting that his interim government was ready to have a dialogue and negotiations with Russia about Moscow’s concerns for the rights of ethnic Russians in Crimea.

Asked what a political solution would look like, Yatseniuk said: “If it is about Crimea, we as the Ukrainian government are willing to start a nationwide dialogue (about) how to increase the rights of (the) autonomous republic of Crimea, starting with taxes and ending with other aspects like language issues.”

The EU sanctions, outlined in a document seen by Reuters, would slap travel bans and asset freezes on an as-yet-undecided list of people and firms accused by Brussels of violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the measures would be imposed on Monday unless diplomatic progress was made.

A Russian stock index dropped 2.6 percent and the central bank was forced to spend $1.5 billion to prop up the rouble as investors confronted the prospect that Russia could face unexpectedly serious consequences for its plans to annex Crimea.

Russian troops have seized control of the Black Sea peninsula, where separatists have taken over the provincial government and are preparing for Sunday’s referendum, which the West calls illegal.

The measures outlined by the EU are similar to steps already announced by Washington, but would have far greater impact because Europe buys most of Russia’s oil and gas exports, while the United States is only a minor trade partner. The EU’s 335 billion euros ($465 billion) of trade with Russia in 2012 was worth about 10 times that of the United States.

The travel bans and asset freezes could cut members of Russia’s elite off from the European cities that provide their second homes and the European banks that hold their cash.

The fast pace of Russian moves to annex Crimea appears to have galvanized the leaders of a 28-member bloc whose consensus rules often slow down its decisions.

Merkel herself had initially expressed reservations about sanctions but has been frustrated by Moscow’s refusal to form a “contact group” to seek a diplomatic solution over Crimea.

“Almost a week ago, we said that if that wasn’t successful within a few days, we’d have to consider a second stage of sanctions,” Merkel said. “Six days have gone by since then, and we have to recognize, even though we will continue our efforts to form a contact group, that we haven’t made any progress.”

In Crimea, the regional government is led by a Russian separatist businessman whose party received just 4 percent of the vote in the last provincial election in 2010 but who took power on February 27 after gunmen seized the assembly building.

Two days later, Putin announced that Russia had the right to invade Ukraine to protect Russian citizens.

Preparations for Sunday’s referendum are in full swing. Banners hang in the centre of Crimea’s capital, reading: “Spring – Crimea – Russia!” and “Referendum – Crimea with Russia!”

A senior Russian lawmaker on Wednesday strongly suggested that Moscow had sent troops to Crimea to protect against any “armed aggression” by Ukrainian forces during the referendum. Putin and other Russian officials have said armed men who have taken control of facilities in Crimea are local “self-defence” forces.

Crimea has a narrow ethnic Russian majority, and many in the province of 2 million people clearly favour rule from Moscow. Opinion has been whipped up by state-run media that broadcast exaggerated reports of a threat from “fascist thugs” in Kiev.

“Enough with Ukraine, that unnatural creation of the Soviet Union, we have to go back to our motherland,” said Anatoly, 38, from Simferopol, dressed in camouflage uniform and a traditional Cossack fur cap.

But a substantial, if quieter, part of the population still prefers being part of Ukraine. They include many ethnic Russians as well as Ukrainians and members of the peninsula’s indigenous Tatar community, who were brutally repressed under Soviet rule.

“Crimea has been with Ukraine since the 1950s, and I want to know how they will cut it off from what was our mainland,” said Musa, a Tatar. “If the referendum is free and fair, at least a little bit, I will vote against Crimean independence.”

The referendum seems to leave no such choice: Voters will have to pick between joining Russia or adopting an earlier constitution that described Crimea as sovereign. The regional assembly says that if Crimea becomes sovereign, it will sever ties with Ukraine and join Russia anyway.

Still, with the streets firmly in control of pro-Russian militiamen and Russian troops, there is little doubt the separatist authorities will get the pro-Russian result they seek. Many opponents, including Tatar leaders, plan a boycott.

At the White House, Obama ridiculed the referendum, saying: “The issue now is whether Russia is able to militarily dominate a region of somebody else’s country, engineer a slapdash referendum and ignore not only the Ukrainian constitution but a Ukrainian government that includes parties that are historically in opposition with each other.”

“We will continue to say to the Russian government that if it continues on the path that it is on, then not only us but the international community, the European Union and others will be forced to apply a cost to Russia’s violation of international law and its encroachments on Ukraine,” he added.

Obama said the United States and Ukraine recognized the historic ties between Russia and Ukraine, but added: There is a constitutional process in place and a set of elections that they can move forward on that in fact could lead to different arrangements over time with the Crimean region.

“But that is not something that can be done with the barrel of a gun pointed at you,” Obama said.

Yatseniuk said his government was eager for talks with Russia about Ukraine but made clear his country “is and will be a part of the Western world.”

“We fight for our freedom, we fight for our independence, we fight for our sovereignty, and we will never surrender,” he said at the White House.

While tightening his grip on Crimea, Putin seems to have backed off from his March 1 threat to invade other parts of eastern and southern Ukraine, where most of the population, although ethnically Ukrainian, speak Russian as a first language.

That threat exposed the limits of Ukraine’s military, which would be little match for the superpower next door and has seen its detachments in Crimea surrounded. The authorities in Kiev announced the formation of a new national guard on Wednesday.

But if Putin had expected to be able to seize Crimea without facing any consequences – as he did when he captured parts of tiny Georgia after a war in 2008 – the push toward sanctions suggests he may have miscalculated.

In a statement, the leaders of the G7 – the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada – called on Russia to stop the referendum from taking place.

“In addition to its impact on the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea could have grave implications for the legal order that protects the unity and sovereignty of all states,” they said. “Should the Russian Federation take such a step, we will take further action, individually and collectively.”

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved legislation that would impose strict sanctions on Russians involved in the intervention in Ukraine and provide aid to the new government in Kiev. The bill now goes to the full Senate for a vote and must also be approved by the House of Representatives.

There has been a lot of diplomatic contact between Russia and the West but no breakthrough. Putin spoke on Wednesday to French President Francois Hollande and Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, whose country chairs the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is due to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in London on Friday.

Russia has pledged to retaliate for any sanctions, but EU leaders seem to be betting that Moscow has more to lose than they do. Merkel’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, said any potential impact on Germany’s economy was likely to be limited.

While the EU has agreed to wording for its sanctions, it is still working on a target list. Talks took place in London this week between officials from Britain, the United States, Italy, France, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Turkey and Japan.

“My understanding is that there was detailed discussion of names at the meeting,” an EU official said. “No definitive list has been drawn up, but it will be ready by Monday.”

European officials have indicated that Putin and Lavrov will not be on the list, in order to keep channels of communication open. The list is expected to focus on targets close to Putin in the security services and the military, as well as lawmakers.

In the past, U.S. and EU sanctions against countries such as Syria, Libya and Iran have started with lists of only around 20 people and companies. But those lists quickly evolved into more powerful weapons as other people and firms were added.

The EU has said it is also prepared to take further steps, such as an arms embargo and other trade measures.


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