Reuters blog archive
Vladimir Putin said this morning Russia and the United States are still far apart over Ukraine. Moscow, he said, could not ignore “illegitimate decisions” imposed on the east and south of the country and calls for help by ethnic Russians there but the two powers should not sacrifice relations over it.
In an hour-long telephone call last night Barack Obama urged Putin to accept the terms of a potential diplomatic solution to the crisis whereby Moscow would keep its military bases in Crimea while respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty. But he also ordered sanctions – including travel bans and freezing of assets in the U.S. - on people responsible for Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine though Putin himself is not on the list.
Obama also said a Crimean referendum on joining Russia, called for 9 days’ time, violated international law.
Meanwhile, Congress passed a $1 billion loan guarantees package for the new government in Kiev. The European Union has already promised some $15 billion over the next two years, contingent on a deal being signed with the IMF.
In terms of sticks not carrots, the EU stopped a little short of Washington. An emergency summit of the bloc’s leaders condemned Russian actions in Crimea as illegal but took only minor steps, suspending talks with Moscow on visas and a new investment pact while warning of tougher measures if there is no negotiated solution soon.
Foreign ministerial talks in Paris yesterday made little progress on Ukraine. Russia rejected Western demands that its forces in Crimea should return to their bases and its foreign minister refused to recognise his Ukrainian counterpart. Moscow continues to assert that the troops that have seized control of the Black Sea peninsula are not under its command. The West is pushing for international monitors to go in.
Today, at least some of the focus switches to Brussels where EU leaders will hold an emergency summit with a twin agenda of how to help the new government in Kiev and possible sanctions against Russia. On the latter, Europe has appeared more reticent than Washington not least because of its deep financial and energy ties, none more so than Germany and Britain.
from The Great Debate:
The American natural gas revolution has boosted economic competitiveness, and helped reduce U.S. carbon emissions to their lowest levels in 20 years. The question is now whether the United States will leverage this energy bounty to advance its foreign policy goals during the most serious East-West crisis in a generation.
Russian’s intervention in Crimea and looming threats against eastern Ukraine underscore Europe’s energy vulnerability. Roughly 80 percent of Russian exported gas to the EU passes through pipelines in Ukraine, which Moscow has turned off twice in recent years.
The end of Russian military exercises near the Ukrainian border and Vladimir Putin’s statement that force would only be used as a very last resort seemed to have taken some of the tension out of this crisis but the situation remains on a knife edge.
Moscow chose to test fire an intercontinental ballistic missile though Washington said it had been notified of plans to do so before the standoff in Crimea blew up. And there is always the possibility of conflict being triggered inadvertently.
A reported 0300 GMT deadline, which Russian forces denied had been issued, for Ukraine’s troops to disarm in Crimea or face the consequences has passed without incident and in the last hour President Vladimir Putin has ordered troops that took part in military exercises in western Russia to return to base.
That has helped lift the euro but the situation remains incredibly tense. Russia’s stock market is up a little over two percent and the rouble has found a footing but they are nowhere near clawing back Monday’s precipitous losses.
from The Great Debate:
In a crisis moving extremely fast, it is dangerous to say this, but I'm at least somewhat less concerned about this upheaval in Ukraine than other people seem to be, for a couple of reasons.
One, to be blunt, is that Ukraine is not in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The United States is not militarily obliged to come to the defense of a country that is, in some degree, in peril. For Americans, that is some solace -- for we have had more than enough of war in recent years. (I am, for similar reasons, against inviting Ukraine into NATO in the future -- unless the basic character of the alliance changes and even Russia could be a part -- which would clearly require some change in Russia as well.)
Is it war if no shots have been fired? The Ukrainians say so but Moscow, its grip on Crimea now pretty much complete, says it is merely protecting its people. The rest of the world and its financial markets watch on very uneasily.
There is virtually no chance of any western military response after Vladimir Putin declared he had the right to invade his neighbour – NATO expressed "grave concern" but did not come up with any significant measures to apply pressure on. But there will be a diplomatic and economic price to pay.
A glimmer of hope in Ukraine?
Let’s not count our chickens after 75 people were killed over the past two days but President Viktor Yanukovich’s people are saying an agreement on resolving the crisis has been reached at all-night talks involving the president, opposition leaders and three visiting European Union ministers.
A deal is due to be signed at 1000 GMT apparently although no details are as yet forthcoming. There has been no word from the EU ministers or the opposition so far.
Even if the violence subsides and some sort of political agreement is reached (a huge if), there is potential financial chaos to deal with despite Russia’s only partially delivered pledge of $15 billion to bail its neighbour out.
A landmark deal curbing Iran’s nuclear programme in return for a loosening of sanctions appears to be underway, an agreement intended to buy time for a permanent settlement of a decade-old standoff.
Under the deal, Iran must suspend enrichment of uranium to a fissile concentration of 20 percent. An Iranian official has just said Tehran will start its suspension of uranium enrichment up to 20 percent in a few hours.
from The Great Debate:
Last weekend, after years of failed negotiations, the “P5+1” nations -- the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China) plus Germany -- finally appeared to be on the verge of a deal with Iran regarding curbs on its nuclear program.
All except France were ready to sign a stopgap agreement that would offer Iran limited sanctions relief in return for a freeze in its nuclear program. But Paris torpedoed the arrangement at the last moment -- denigrating it as “a sucker’s deal.”