MOSCOW — The U.S. government seems to believe that Russia has already established “complete operational control of the Crimean Peninsula.”
American intelligence sources have cited no fewer than 6,000 Russian soldiers who were used to achieve this goal. (In a press conference Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin denied his country’s troops were currently occupying Crimea, or that Moscow had any plans to annex it.)
A U.S. State Department representative confirmed that Washington has been given the authority to act against Russia by all members of the “Group of Seven” — G8 minus Russia — and all of the members of NATO.
President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel held a series of telephone conversations last weekend with European leaders aimed at getting their support for pressure against Russia. The result was a joint announcement by all of the G7 members and the leaders of the European Union announcing that they would stop preparations for the summer G8 summit that had been planned in Sochi.
The only person who spoke out against a possible exclusion of Russia from the G8 was German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who followed up on Chancellor Angela Merkel's proposal of creating an investigation of the Crimean situation under the aegis of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Anticipating the Kremlin’s reaction to what is being seen here as an ultimatum, the U.S. has moved quickly from words to actions. Washington canceled the visit of an American trade delegation to Moscow and refused to accept a trade delegation from Moscow that was supposed to discuss an energy partnership. On Tuesday, Washington also indicated plans for a $1 billion economic aid package for the new government in Kiev, as Kerry said that Russia was "creating pretext" for an invasion of Ukraine.
Incredibly moving visit to Shrine of the Fallen.Courageous,proud people.We stand w/ Ukrainians for self-determination pic.twitter.com/N6klo1LanK
— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) March 4, 2014
In addition, Congress is expected to vote on expanding the so-called “Magnitsky List,” a U.S. black list of sorts, to include any Russian officials who participated in the decision for military intervention in Ukraine. “Now we’re re-evaluating all agreements on economic and trade partnerships with Russia,” said the State Department representative, adding that all of the NATO countries were prepared to implement visa and economic sanctions.
In solidarity with the United States, 28 countries released a statement condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine and calling on Russia to “reduce the tension level.” The European Union went one step further and threatened to freeze negotiations regarding the simplification of the visa regime between Russia and the European Union.
But for the moment, these threats of sanctions are little more than an annoyance for Moscow. The Russian Foreign Ministry called the West’s decision to stop preparations for the G8 in Sochi “politically counterproductive” and “not motivated by anything.” They also had harsh words for John Kerry and his threats of excluding Russia from the G8 and starting economic sanctions on Russia.
“The Secretary of State is operating as if it were the Cold War, and trying to punish not those who had perpetrated a coup d’étatin Kiev but the Russian Federation.”