Western leaders condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s push to annex Crimea and promised further sanctions as early as this week, ratcheting up pressure in the biggest diplomatic crisis since the Cold War.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, in Poland to meet regional allies, predicted “additional sanctions” over what he called “a brazen military incursion.” In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to push European leaders to agree on further measures against Russia when they meet March 20. The death of a Ukrainian soldier in Crimea in clashes as masked gunmen seized a military installation will add urgency to their deliberations.
During a Kremlin speech to Russian lawmakers that was met with cheers and standing ovations, Putin had earlier today blamed Western encroachment for forcing him to take control of Crimea, a move that he described as reversing an historic wrong.
While he said Russia doesn’t plan to further split up Ukraine, Putin underscored his right to defend Russian speakers in Ukraine’s east, where the nation’s prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, says the Kremlin is behind “aggressive” protests.
The show of defiance is likely to force western leaders to consider what further steps they’re prepared to take to bring Russia to heel after asset freezes and travel bans were yesterday imposed on members of Putin’s inner circle and Crimean leaders by the U.S. and European Union.
“The steps taken by President Putin today to attempt to annex Crimea to Russia are in flagrant breach of international law and send a chilling message across the continent of Europe,” Cameron said in a statement released by his office. “Russia will face more serious consequences and I will push European leaders to agree further EU measures.”
After Putin spoke, more than 110,000 people gathered in Red Square near the Kremlin in central Moscow for a concert under the banner of “We are together,” showing support for Crimea joining Russia, according to the Moscow police.
Saying Russia wished no harm to Ukraine, Putin called for an end to Cold War rhetoric and hysteria.
“Don’t believe those who scare you with Russia, who yell that Crimea will be followed by other regions,” Putin said in the Kremlin address. “Crimea is our historic legacy. It should be part of a strong and stable sovereignty, which today can only be Russian.”
The region is an “inalienable” part of Russia, which felt “robbed” when the province stayed with Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union, he said.
His foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a phone call that nationalist Ukrainians were provoking Russian speakers in the country’s southeast, according to statement on ministry website.
Putin’s comments contributed to gains in stocks. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.6 percent at 1:18 p.m. in New York. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index advanced 0.6 percent. Russian shares added 4.1 percent, capping the biggest two-day gain in almost four years. The yield on 10-year Treasuries rose 2 basis point to 2.67 percent and the dollar fell 0.4 percent against the yen amid the reports of clashes in Crimea. Gold dropped 0.9 percent while oil jumped 1.5 percent.
After his speech, Putin signed a treaty to absorb Crimea and its port city of Sevastopol, home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, paving the way for Russia to fully integrate them by Jan. 1 next year.
The speaker of Russia’s senate, Valentina Matviyenko, said both houses of parliament may ratify Crimea’s accession to Russia and approve constitutional changes by the end of this week, according to a statement on the upper house’s website.
Ukraine’s defense ministry authorized the use of live ammunition in self defense in Crimea after the serviceman was killed, another was shot and one severely beaten, spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said by phone. The ministry said personnel at the seized compound had been arrested and documents taken.
The governor of Ukraine’s eastern Kharkiv region warned Russia had also increased its military presence near the shared border as it tries to repeat the events that led up to Crimea’s incorporation into Russia.
Russian forces have been boosted in the last five days, massing along roadways about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the border, said Ihor Baluta, appointed by the interim government in Kiev after the ouster of Viktor Yanukovych last month.
Putin today gave no indication that a resolution between Russia and the West is near, and Russia could take over more of its neighbor, Fredrik Erixon, director of the European Centre for International Political Economy in Brussels, said.
“Putin has a long record of violating international boundaries, so I wouldn’t believe anything he says about not seeking to grab more of Ukraine,” Erixon said. “The Kremlin is interested not just in eastern Ukraine but also Kiev and western Ukraine, which is all seen as part of Mother Russia.”
Defending his policy, Putin lashed out at the U.S. and NATO area countries for infringing on territory close to Russia’s interests and engaging “Russian containment.”
“Everything has its limits,” Putin said. “And in the case of Ukraine, our Western partners have crossed the line and behaved rudely, irresponsibly and unprofessionally.”
Western nations criticized both Putin’s push to take over Crimea and his reasoning that NATO’s 1999 intervention to force Serbian troops out of Kosovo and the expansion of western alliances into the area of the ex-Soviet Union justified it.
“It was regrettable to hear President Putin today choosing the route of isolation,” U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said in the House of Commons. “No amount of sham and perverse democratic process or skewed historical references can make up for the fact that this is an incursion into a sovereign state and a land grab of part of its territory.”