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Ukraine pulls out troops in Crimea as Group of Eight boots Russia

- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2014

Powerless to stop Russia's takeover of its territory, Ukraine ordered the withdrawal of its remaining troops from Crimea on Monday while the U.S. and other countries suspended Russia from the Group of Eight industrialized nations.

The order by Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov completed Ukraine's capitulation of the strategic peninsula, where Russian units seized several more military bases in the past three days, in some cases smashing armored vehicles through gates and firing guns into the air. Russian troops captured a naval base in Feodosia, on the peninsula's eastern coast, early Monday.

President Obama, in Amsterdam for a long-scheduled nuclear summit, held an emergency meeting on the crisis in Ukraine with the leaders of the G-8, who agreed to cancel their attendance at a scheduled meeting in Sochi, Russia, in June. The other nations in the G-8 — the U.S., Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and Italy — condemned Russia's actions as a "clear violation of international law" and said they would meet instead in Brussels this summer without Russia.

After the two-hour, closed-door meeting, the leaders said they should shun Moscow "until Russia changes course and the environment comes back to where the G-8 is able to have a meaningful discussion."

The world powers warned that they were prepared to "intensify actions" against Russia, including ordering more severe economic sanctions, if the Kremlin escalates its incursion into Ukraine.

In an unexpected development, Russia's foreign minister met in The Hague with his Ukrainian counterpart, the highest level of contact between the two nations since Russia moved forces into Crimea nearly a month ago.

Mr. Obama said Russia will pay a price for annexing Crimea illegally.

"Europe and America are united in our support of the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people," Mr. Obama said. "We're united in imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far."

Administration officials said there is no reason for Russia to remain in the G-8, into which Russia was accepted in 1998.

"Our view is simply that if Russia is flagrantly violating international law and the order that the G-7 has hoped to build since the end of the Cold War, there's no need to engage with Russia," said Ben Rhodes, deputy White House national security adviser.

Russia's actions have sparked one of Europe's deepest political crises in decades and drawn comparisons to the Cold War era's tensions between East and West. Mr. Obama and other Western leaders have condemned Russia's movements as a violation of international law and have ordered economic sanctions on close associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin, though those punishments appear to have done little to change the Russian leaders' calculus.

In Congress, the Senate moved toward a vote on sanctions for Russia and aid for Ukraine.

Ukraine pushed for the United Nations General Assembly to adopt a resolution, possibly Thursday, reaffirming the country's territorial integrity and declaring that the referendum in Crimea that led to its annexation by Russia "has no validity."

Mr. Putin said the peninsula was annexed to Russia in part to correct a historical mistake. The territory was transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954 when both nations were republics of the Soviet Union.

The majority of the population in Crimea is ethnic Russian, but Russia's occupation also was a response to the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych after a popular uprising in Kiev.

Mr. Obama last week ordered sanctions that froze the U.S. assets of 27 Russian and four Ukrainian officials, including members of Mr. Putin's inner circle. The European Union imposed sanctions against 12 top Russians on Friday.

Mr. Obama, who has ruled out military action, is trying to lead a coordinated diplomatic response against Russia, but White House aides said the administration is worried about Russia's buildup of military forces on the Ukrainian border.

"We've been very concerned by the potential for escalation into eastern and southern Ukraine," Mr. Rhodes said. "We've monitored very closely Russian troop movements along the border of Ukraine and, frankly, it underscores the need for there to be a de-escalation because any further steps into eastern and southern Ukraine would represent a very dangerous escalation of the situation."

In an interview published Monday in the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant, Mr. Obama said, "The United States does not view Europe as a battleground between East and West, nor do we see the situation in Ukraine as a zero-sum game. That's the kind of thinking that should have ended with the Cold War."

The president also said, "The Ukrainian people do not have to choose between East and West. On the contrary, it's important that Ukraine have good relations with the United States, Russia and Europe. As I've said, the future of Ukraine ought to be decided by the people of Ukraine."

Mr. Obama's meeting with the G-7 leaders on the sidelines of the nuclear security summit in the Netherlands was the first of several sessions in which he is trying to persuade allies to force Mr. Putin to pull back his troops from the Ukrainian border and begin formal talks with the government in Kiev. But Mr. Putin hasn't shown signs of retreating.

Mr. Obama was expected to face resistance from some European officials. Russia is one of the European Union's largest trading partners, and officials fear further economic problems if Moscow retaliates, particularly by curbing oil and gas supplies.

In another attempt to isolate Russia, Mr. Obama held a separate meeting Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose country frequently sides with Moscow in disputes with the West.

The U.S. has been appealing to China's vehement opposition to outside intervention in other nations' domestic affairs and scored a symbolic diplomatic gain when Beijing abstained a week ago from voting on a U.N. Security Council resolution declaring Crimea's secession referendum illegal. With Russia vetoing the measure and the 13 other council members voting in favor, China's abstention served to isolate Moscow internationally.

"I believe ultimately that by working together, China and the United States can help strengthen international law and respect for the sovereignty of nations and establish the kind of rules internationally that allow all peoples to thrive," Mr. Obama said while standing alongside Mr. Xi ahead of their hourlong meeting.

In a counterpoint to Mr. Obama and his G-7 partners, a group of five major emerging economies — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — issued a statement Monday opposing sanctions and urging nations to work through the United Nations instead. The so-called BRICS nations said hostile language, sanctions and force do not "contribute to a sustainable and peaceful solution."

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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