The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

March 7, 2014

Obama's warnings brushed aside by Russia's Putin

WASHINGTON (AP) — One by one, President Barack Obama's warnings to Russia are being brushed aside by President Vladimir Putin, who appears to only be speeding up efforts to formally stake his claim to Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

In the week since Obama first declared there would be "costs" if Putin pressed into Crimea, Russian forces have taken control of the region and a referendum has been scheduled to decide its future. Obama declared the March 16 vote a violation of international law, but in a region where ethnic Russians are the majority, the referendum seems likely to become another barrier to White House efforts to compel Putin to pull his forces from Crimea.

"The referendum vote is going to serve for Putin, in his mind, as the credibility and legitimacy of Russia's presence there," said Andrew Kuchins, the director of the Russia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

If Crimea votes to join Russia, the referendum could also put Obama in the awkward position of opposing the outcome of a popular vote.

The White House has tried to match Russia's assertive posture by moving quickly to impose financial sanctions and travel bans on Russians and other opponents of Ukraine's new central government. U.S. officials have also urgently tried to rally the international community around the notion that Russia's military maneuvers in Crimea are illegal, even seeking support from China, Moscow's frequent ally against the West.

"I am confident that we are moving forward together, united in our determination to oppose actions that violate international law and to support the government and people of Ukraine," Obama said Thursday.

The European Union also announced Thursday that it was suspending talks with Putin's government on a wide-ranging economic agreement and on granting Russian citizens visa-free travel within the 28-nation bloc — a long-standing Russian objective.

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