MOSCOW: The international conflict over Russia’s military moves in Crimea escalated precariously Saturday as lawmakers in Moscow authorized the use of armed forces to protect their nation’s interests and ethnic Russians in Ukraine and President Obama pressed President Vladimir Putin during a 90-minute phone call to back down.
The unanimous vote in the upper house of the parliament came after Russian troops had already taken up positions in Crimea, the Ukrainian region that is home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet, and in spite of Obama’s warning Friday that “there will be costs” if Moscow intervenes in its neighbor’s political upheaval.
During Saturday’s call, Obama threatened Russia with “greater political and economic isolation,” according to a White House statement. The president, who had already issued a warning to Russia during a hastily called news conference Friday, suggested the United Nations would take action for what he called a “breach of international law.”
A Kremlin statement on the phone call suggested that Putin was unmoved. It said the Russian president told Obama the unrest in Ukraine was the result of “provocations and criminal actions by ultranationalist elements encouraged by the current powers in Kiev,” and said Russia reserved the right to defend its citizens and interests from those aggressions.
The standoff follows the overthrow late last month of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich after three months of protests by mostly urban and western Ukrainians who favor ties with the West, leaving Ukrainians in Crimea and elsewhere in the east, who tend to favor ties with Moscow, fearful for their future.