President Barack Obama said Russia would face “costs” if it intervenes in Ukraine, and an American official said the U.S. was consulting with European allies on boycotting a planned G-8 meeting in Russia in June.
“We are now deeply concerned about reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine,” Obama said at the White House today. “The United States will stand with the international community in affirming there will be costs” for violating Ukraine’s sovereignty.
The U.S. and allies may find it difficult to attend the Group of Eight meeting in Sochi, Russia, in June if Russia violates its commitments to a sovereign Ukraine, according to an Obama administration official who asked for anonymity to describe the discussions. Russia’s desire for improved trade and commercial ties may also be put at risk, the official said.
Obama decided to speak publicly after U.S. intelligence confirmed that a number of Russian troops had entered Ukraine in vehicles, transport planes and helicopters without the permission of the country’s new interim government, said two U.S. officials briefed on the matter. Both requested anonymity to discuss classified reports.
The officials said the Russian forces’ mission, at least initially, appeared to be securing airfields near the region’s capital of Simferopol and reinforcing a small contingent of Russian marines stationed at the home base of the Russian Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol.
While they declined to discuss the nature, number or weaponry of the Russian forces, the officials said two concerns are that the airfields might be used to bring additional Russian forces into Crimea and that resistance from Ukrainian forces or civilian protesters could cause the crisis to escalate.
The president, who spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin for more than an hour last week, didn’t confirm in his White House appearance statements by Ukrainian officials who accused Russia of invading the southern Crimea region, where unidentified gunmen seized airports, government buildings and other facilities.
“Right now the situation remains very fluid,” Obama said, adding that Vice President Joe Biden spoke today with the new Ukrainian prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations, Yuriy Sergeyev, said in New York that Russia illegally flew military transport aircraft and helicopters across Ukrainian borders.
Obama didn’t say what the U.S. might do if Russia moved its military into Ukraine, and he took no questions after making his statement.
Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, speaking today in New York, said he had no information on his country’s military presence in Crimea.
Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, said Russia committed, along with the U.S. and the U.K., to honor Ukraine’s sovereignty under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.
“Russia, which has begun to experience the benefits of expanded trade with World Trade Organization accession, should think long and hard about honoring their treaty obligations and fostering the stability that creates prosperity for its citizens,” he said.