Russian-speaking troops seized a Ukrainian naval base in the contested Crimea region Wednesday, while the Obama administration effectively ruled out a military response and scolded Russia for its “naked aggression.”
Forces loyal to Russia stormed the navy base in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol one day after Russia signed a treaty with local authorities to annex the region. By afternoon, they were in full control of the naval headquarters, raising the Russian flag over the installation and detaining the Ukrainian base commander.
As the international community and the Obama administration continued to search for an effective response, Ukraine’s security chief said the country will request United Nations support to turn Crimea into a demilitarized zone as it seeks to relocate armed forces to the mainland. The move signaled what amounts to a surrender of the strategic peninsula that has been part of Ukraine since 1954.
Ukrainian officials also said the country will pull out of the Russia-dominated alliance of ex-Soviet nations that was set up after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The White House said President Obama is not actively considering a military response to the crisis. Press secretary Jay Carney said a military option is “certainly not at the forefront of discussions” among Mr. Obama’s top advisers, and that the president is considering more visa bans and economic sanctions against Russian leaders.
“We are prepared to impose further costs on Russia,” he said.
In the tiny state of Lithuania on Russia’s border, Vice President Joseph R. Biden wrapped up two days of talks aimed at reassuring leaders of Baltic nations that the U.S. will honor its commitment to protect NATO members from further Russian aggression.
“We stand resolutely with our Baltic allies in support of the Ukrainian people and against Russian aggression,” Mr. Biden said in Vilnius. “As long as Russia continues on this dark path, they will face increasing political and economic isolation.”
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said the situation in Ukraine is “alarming.”
“We reject the use of brutal force to redraw the map of Europe and to undermine the post-war political order,” she said. “We must take all the necessary measures to insure security in Europe and the Baltic region.”
Latvian President Andris Berzins said the U.S. and its allies must aid Ukraine immediately, politically and economically.
As he prepared to return to Washington, Mr. Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin is confronting a world united against his Cold-War view of expansion.
“Russia cannot escape that the world is changing and rejecting outright their behavior … and that there is a price to pay for naked aggression,” Mr. Biden said.
The United Nations said Wednesday that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will fly to Moscow and Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, on Thursday and Friday for meetings with leaders, including Mr. Putin. He will urge a peaceful end to a crisis that began when Ukraine’s president abandoned a trade pact with the European Union and turned instead to Moscow, prompting violent street protests that led to his overthrow.
Russian lawmakers raced to ratify a treaty making Crimea part of Russia by the end of the week, despite threats of further sanctions from Washington and Brussels.