NATO allies criticize U.S. for being caught off guard by Russia’s military buildup

Biden calls annexation of Crimea an ‘almost unbelievable set of events’

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Brushing aside President Obama’s threat of more sanctions, Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed the Crimean region of Ukraine on Tuesday with the stroke of a pen, while NATO members criticized Washington for getting caught off guard by Russia’s military buildup.

As the Russian national anthem played and cheering lawmakers wept, Mr. Putin and Crimean leaders signed a treaty in Moscow to make Crimea part of the Russian Federation, only two days after the region held a disputed referendum enforced by Russian troops.

SEE ALSO: Crimean forces storm Ukrainian navy HQ

“In the hearts and minds of people, Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia,” Mr. Putin said in a passionate speech, adding that he had no further ambitions for Ukrainian territory.

The annexation prompted a howl of protest in Kiev, where Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called it “a robbery on an international scale” and warned that the crisis was careening toward war.

The shooting death of a Ukrainian soldier in Crimea by a masked gunman brought accusations that Russia was committing war crimes.

Mr. Obama kept a low profile a day after he imposed sanctions on 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials. Vice President Joseph R. Biden, in Poland on a mission to calm anxious European leaders, denounced Russia’s “land grab” and warned Mr. Putin that the U.S. would issue more sanctions and defend its NATO allies.

“We join Poland and the international community condemning the continuing assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the blatant violation of international law by Mr. Putin and Russia,” the vice president said in Warsaw.

Mr. Biden called Russia’s takeover of Crimea “an almost unbelievable set of events.”

SEE ALSO: Romney: Obama failed to act on Russia ‘when action was possible, and needed’

His host, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, told Mr. Biden directly that Russia’s actions should not have come as a surprise, given Moscow’s significant increase in military spending.

“We have to take these simple data about the gigantic increase of the level of funding of the Russian armed forces as a challenge as well as a lesson to be learned for the future of the whole NATO,” Mr. Komorowski said.

Estonian President Toomas Ilves told Mr. Biden that Russia’s action in Crimea should be a wake-up call.

“We and NATO must draw our conclusions from Russia’s behavior in the current crisis; we need and must conduct a review of the entire range of NATO-Russia relations,” Mr. Ilves said, adding that the defense alliance’s principles toward Russia “don’t apply anymore.”

“There is no more respect for territorial integrity, for transparency,” said Mr. Ilves, whose country, like Ukraine, is a former Soviet republic and has a higher percentage of ethnic Russians — 25 percent of the population to Ukraine’s 17 percent. The protection of ethnic Russians was one of Mr. Putin’s principal justifications for invading Crimea.

Mr. Ilves said he hoped that at the NATO summit in September, “we will have drawn our own conclusions and refocus on collective defense.”

Mr. Biden tried to reject the suggestion that the U.S., in the midst of defense cutbacks, was allowing Russia to gain a strategic advantage.

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