U.S. senators of both political parties decried today’s referendum in Crimea as a sham, urging tighter sanctions on Russia and military assistance for Ukraine as it seeks to retain its Black Sea peninsula.
Republican John McCain said the vote on whether Crimea should secede from Ukraine to join Russia was “a bogus thing” whose outcome was never in any doubt.
“It is a done deal,” the Arizona senator, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. McCain just returned from a visit to Kiev, Ukraine’s capital.
A majority of Crimeans chose to make their province a part of the Russian Federation, according to exit polls, in a widely criticized vote that deepened the worst crisis between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.
The referendum took place with an estimated 22,000 Russian troops already in Crimea, which has a majority-Russian population. President Barack Obama had urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to cancel the referendum, without success.
“This referendum is contrary to Ukraine’s constitution, and the international community will not recognize the results of a poll administered under threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military intervention,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said in an e-mailed statement after today’s vote.
McCain said the Obama administration is giving “serious consideration” to providing military assistance to Ukraine.
“That doesn’t mean American boots on the ground, although maybe delivering some humanitarian supplies by U.S. aircraft, military aircraft in Kiev might have a kind of a beneficial effect,” he said.
Secretary of State John Kerry spoke today by phone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to urge a political solution, according to a State Department statement.
Kerry told Lavrov the Crimea referendum is illegal under Ukrainian law and that Russia should instead support power-sharing efforts under review by Ukraine’s Rada, or parliament, according to the e-mailed statement.
Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat also on the bipartisan delegation of senators returning from Kiev, said the U.S. should offer non-lethal military aid, along with economic assistance to Ukraine and sanctions on Russia.
The U.S. is sending 25,000 cases of field rations to Ukraine’s forces, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said March 14. Ukraine has requested a “broad spectrum” of equipment, mostly for logistics and troop support, he said.
The U.S. and European Union may announce as early as tomorrow a set of sanctions on Russian individuals and businesses deemed responsible for violence and corruption in Ukraine, U.S. and EU officials have said.
If Russia moves forces beyond Crimea into eastern Ukraine, “it is going to be bloody and the fight may be long,” Murphy said on ABC’s “This Week” program.
Russian troops massed for exercises on the Ukraine border in the days before the vote, stirring concerns of a move to annex eastern Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government contends ethnic Russians in Crimea are at risk after the uprising in Kiev that toppled Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovych last month. Ukraine’s new leaders deny there’s any risk to Ukraine’s Russian population. The Kremlin supports Crimea’s recently appointed administration, which organized today’s referendum.
Russia yesterday vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution declaring the referendum illegal. The UN measure, sponsored by the U.S., gained the support of 13 members of the council, with China abstaining.
Ukraine’s political crisis was sparked when Yanukovych rejected an EU integration pact in November in favor of a $15 billion bailout from Russia, which opposed the deal.
The Crimea referendum is “a lame excuse by Putin to invade Crimea and take it over,” Senator Richard Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the chamber and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. “This is a Soviet-style election,” the Illinois senator said. “We know what the ending is going to be,” said Durbin, who also was on the trip to Ukraine.
Durbin said that the Foreign Relations Committee last week approved a bill that would condemn Russia’s intervention, guarantee as much as $1 billion in private-sector loans to Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russian officials and others responsible for violence or undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty.
“This referendum is in violation of international law,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a White House senior adviser, who also spoke on NBC. The U.S. is working with the EU and others to put pressure on Russia “in the form of sanctions. The president has signed an executive order, last week, that gives him the authority to do this, and you can expect sanction designations in the coming days.”