THE HAGUE - President Obama this evening will urge leaders of major industrial nations to indefinitely suspend Russia from the Group of Eight, and push members to more explicitly spell out what additional economic sanctions President Putin will face for his military intervention in Ukraine.
“As long as flagrantly violating international law, and the order the G7 has help built since the end of the Cold War, there is no reason to engage with Russia,” said Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. “What Russia has done has been a violation of that entire international order built up over many decades.”
The meeting on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit here is the first of several sessions Obama plans to attend in the coming days with European allies and others over how to persuade Putin, once interested in further integrating Russia in the global economy, to pull forces back from eastern Ukraine and begin a dialogue with the government to resolve the crisis in Crimea.
Putin, though, has shown little interest in doing so. On Monday, Ukrainian leaders ordered their forces to leave Crimea under threat from Russian troops. Top Ukrainian and NATO officials both said Sunday they worried of an intensifying conflict.
In an interview with Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant ahead of the trip, Obama said the United States and its allies needed to be prepared to go even further if the situation gets worse, wire services reported.
“If Russia continues to escalate the situation, we need to be prepared to impose a greater cost,” he said.
Obama’s meetings in the Netherlands include Chinese president Xi Jinping on Monday, as well as with the G7 allies. The group includes Japan, Canada, Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom, and was formed to coordinate policy among the world’s major free market democracies. The group was expanded to include Russia in the late 1990s as the country, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the start of market reforms.
But even with the nuclear summit drawing the world’s leaders, Putin is not attending, and Obama’s push would further isolate him internationally.
Whether that has an impact, however, remains to be seen. Ukrainian interim president Oleksandr Turchynov said in the national parliament on Monday that he had told the defense ministry to issue withdrawal orders for any remaining military personnel in Crimea, the disputed region where government installations have steadily fallen into Russian hands.
Russian troops are now in control of the entire Ukrainian marine base at Feodosia, said a defense ministry official, and two senior commanders have been taken into custody.
Russian troops stormed the facility, home to a well-trained and armed force, in the early morning hours, firing automatic weapons and using stun grenades, said Vladislav Seleznyov, a defense ministry spokesman. Some of the Marines had their hands bound, he said, and 80 to 100 have been gathered together in one spot.
Seleznyov said the Russians flew commander Dmitri Deliatizkii and his deputy, Rostilav Lomtev, off the base in a helicopter. Servicemen in Crimea said Monday afternoon that the orders had not yet reached them.
The commander of a Ukrainian base in Belbek, Yuli Mamchur, has been held by Russians since his base was stormed Saturday. Ukrainian television has reported it is believed he is being held in a jail in the port city of Sevastopol.
“We are military people and we act on orders,” Seleznyov said by telephone. “When we get orders we will know where we go and what we’ll take with us.”
Russia’s defense ministry announced Sunday its troops have taken control of 189 Ukrainian bases and facilities in Crimea. It is not clear how many, if any, still have a Ukrainian flag flying. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Crimea Monday, according to Russian press reports, and met with the region’s leaders.
With Crimea now fully in Russian hands, both sides have looked towards economic and diplomatic tools to pressure the other.
In his talks in Europe, Obama is likely to focus on ways to enforce and perhaps stiffen economic sanctions already announced against Moscow, and to develop a package of economic and financial support for the Ukrainian government.
Meanwhile, Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev said pensions for Crimeans would be raised to Russian levels, a decision that will cost the Russian treasury about $1 billion this year.
He also said Crimea may be turned into a special economic zone where enterprises would be exempt from taxes until 2015.
The starkest warning about further Russian ambitions came from Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya, appearing on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” who said the prospect of war with Russia is growing. “We don’t know what [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has in his mind and what would be his decision,” Deshchytsya said. “That’s why this situation is becoming even more explosive than it used to be a week ago.”
In Brussels, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Europe, said Russia had assembled a large force on Ukraine’s eastern border that could be planning to head for Moldova’s separatist Transnistria region, more than 300 miles away.
Ukrainian officials have been warning for weeks that Russia is trying to provoke a conflict in eastern Ukraine, a charge that Russia denies. But Breedlove said Russian ambitions do not stop there. “There is absolutely sufficient force postured on the eastern border of Ukraine to run to Transnistria if the decision was made to do that, and that is very worrisome,” Breedlove said.
A drive into Transnistria would mark an extraordinary deepening of Russia’s military thrust into former Soviet territory and sharply escalate tensions with the West. Transnistria, a narrow strip of land about the size of Rhode Island that is wedged between the rest of Moldova and southern Ukraine, proclaimed its independence in 1990. Its population went on to vote in 2006 to seek eventual unification with Russia.
Although those moves were not recognized internationally, the region has its own constitution and currency, and pro-Russian sentiment there runs high. About 1,200 Russian troops are stationed in the territory — fewer than were in Crimea, the site of a key Russian naval base, before the current crisis began.
In Washington, a senior Defense Department official said it was “difficult to know what [Russia’s] intent is; they’re not exactly being transparent.” He spoke on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities.
During a conversation Thursday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu assured U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that Russian troops on the Ukrainian border were merely conducting a regular “spring” exercise and that Russia had no intention of sending the forces across the international line, the U.S. official said.
But at the same time, the official said, “They have enough troops close enough and, most likely, ready enough that we would have very little notice” if they decided to move farther outside Russia. Russian news services quoted Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov as saying Sunday that Russia is complying with all international agreements on troop limits near its border with Ukraine.
In Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, members of a visiting U.S. congressional delegation said Ukrainian officials were determined to prevent any further Russian incursion into their territory.
“This would be no Crimea,” Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) said at a news conference, adding that Putin would find himself having to explain why young Russian men were coming home in coffins. “Ukraine is ready to fight.”
Will Englund in Moscow and Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report, which originally appeared in The Washington Post. Morello reported from Simferopol, Crimea.