Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday ignored U.S. warnings to stay of Ukraine, asking for and receiving authority from his parliament to use military forces in Ukraine’s strategic region of Crimea.
A resolution allowing force was approved by the Russian legislature’s upper house, and Mr. Putin said such a move is necessary to protect ethnic Russians and military bases in Crimea. The region is home to a large ethnic Russian population and has become the stage on which Mr. Putin seeks to exert control and influence over the region.
“I’m submitting a request for using the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine, pending the normalization of the socio-political situation in that country,” the Russian president said in a statement released by the Kremlin.
While the resolution appears meant to address the situation in Crimea — where the region’s regional prime minister earlier this week asked Russia for help — the fact that it refers more generally to “the territory of Ukraine” leaves open the possibility Russia could send its military into other parts of the troubled nation.
The Russian moves come less than 24 hours after the White House delivered a stern warning to Mr. Putin, with President Obama personally vowing “there will be costs” if Russia continues its aggressive posture.
“Just days after the world came to Russia for the Olympic games, [Russian aggression] would invite the condemnation of nations around the world. And indeed the United States will stand with the international community in affirming there will be costs for any military intervention,” he said Friday afternoon.
But those vague threats appear to have had little effect on Mr. Putin.
U.S. lawmakers and many analysts believe the Russian president’s ultimate goal is to annex Crimea, and possibly other parts of Ukraine as well.
The Russians not only have disregarded the White House’s words but also those of the new Ukrainian prime minister, who came to power following the ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych.
“We call on the government and authorities of Russia to recall their forces and to return them to their stations,” new Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk was quoted as saying by the Interfax News Agency. “Russian partners, stop provoking civil and military resistance in Ukraine.”
Before Saturday’s vote, Russia had taken other provocative steps.
On Friday, Ukrainian officials accused Russian forces of trying to seize two airports in Crimea. The armed men reportedly wore uniforms with no insignia.
Russian forces also have been conducting regular drills on the Ukrainian border, and Russian jets have been patrolling the skies in the same areas.
Back in the U.S., some critics of the administration believe the president doesn’t fully understand who he’s dealing with in Moscow and fear the White House’s threats will go unheeded.
“It’s pretty clear that maybe the president has been a bit naive about Vladimir Putin and his ambitions,” Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said on CNN Friday. “What we are seeing now is Vladimir Putin’s commitment and absolute belief that Ukraine is part of Russia. And he’s not going to let it go.”
• Wire service material was used in this report