The United States and the European Union decided to join forces in preparing further economic sanctions in response to Russia’s behavior in Ukraine, including on the energy sector, and to make Europe less dependent on Russian gas.
Barack Obama told reporters after a summit with top EU officials that Russian President Vladimir Putin had miscalculated in case he believed he could divide the West or count on its indifference over his annexation of Crimea.
Leaders of the G7 agreed on toughening sanctions targeting Moscow’s economy unless the Russian president took further action to destabilize Ukraine or other former Soviet republics.
“If Russia continues on its current course, however, the isolation will deepen, sanctions will increase and there will be more consequences for the Russian economy,” Obama told a joint news conference with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
In the keynote address of his European trip, the U.S. leader later told an audience of 2,000 young people that the West would prevail if it remained united, not by military action but by the power of its values to attract ordinary Ukrainians.
Russia would not be “dislodged from Crimea or deterred from further escalation by military force. But with time, so long as we remain united, the Russian people will recognize that they cannot achieve security, prosperity, and the status they seek through brute force,” he said.
In the speech in a Brussels concert hall, which resembled a point-by-point rebuttal of Putin’s March 18 Kremlin speech announcing the annexation of Crimea, Obama voiced respect for a strong Russia but said “that does not mean that Russia can run roughshod over its neighbors”.
He also said NATO would step up its presence in new east European member states bordering on Russia and Ukraine to provide reassurance that the alliance’s mutual defense guarantee would protect them.
Two weeks ago the Ukranian region of Crimea voted with overwhelming majority to separate from Ukraine to join Russia, as the region has an ethnic Russian majority and became part of Ukraine only 60 years ago.
Crimea’s Moscow-oriented leaders declared a 96,7-percent vote to break with Ukraine and join Russia in a referendum, as Western powers said was illegal and will bring immediate sanctions.
When only half of the votes were counted, the head of the referendum commission, Mikhail Malyshev, said that 95.5 percent had chosen the option of annexation by Moscow. Turnout was 83 percent, he added – a high figure given that many who opposed the move had said they would boycott the vote. Final results were not expected until Monday.
The White House and the EU rejected the results of the referendum with the U.S. president’s aides saying: “The United States has steadfastly supported the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ukraine since it declared its independence in 1991, and we reject the ‘referendum’ that took place today in the Crimean region of Ukraine.”
“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 that violates international law. Russia’s actions are dangerous and destabilizing,” the statement from the White House claimed.