- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2014

President Obama on Thursday renewed his call for Russia to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine by allowing independent monitors and moving toward free elections in May.

In a hastily arranged press conference at the White House, Mr. Obama said he had authorized a framework for sanctions in consultation with allies “to impose a cost on Russia” and on individuals responsible for the Russian military’s occupation of Crimea in southern Ukraine

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“I am confident that we are moving forward together, united in our determination to oppose actions that violate international law and to support the government and people of Ukraine,” Mr. Obama said.

While he didn’t mention Russian President Vladimir Putin by name, Mr. Obama blasted Moscow’s military intervention as a Soviet-style power move.

“In 2014, we are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders,” the president said.

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Mr. Obama also criticized a proposed referendum on the future of Crimea,  saying it would violate Ukraine’s sovereignty. Most inhabitants of the region are Russian-speaking.

“The proposed referendum on the future of Crimea would violate the Ukrainian constitution and violate international law,” Mr. Obama said. “Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine.”

He urged Russia to seize the diplomatic solution being offered by the U.S. and its Western allies.

“I want to be clear that there is also a way to resolve this crisis that respects the interests of the Russian Federation as well as the Ukrainian people: Let international monitors into all of Ukraine, including Crimea, to ensure the rights of all Ukrainians are being respected, including ethnic Russians,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s the path to de-escalation.”

 He said talks between the government of Russia and Ukraine should begin with the participation of the international community.

Mr. Putin has said that the interim government in Kiev is illegitimate, after the country’s former pro-Moscow president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled in the face of violent street protests.

Mr. Obama also offered that Russia would be allowed to “maintain its [military] basing rights in Crimea, provided that it abides by its agreements and respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Russia has a key navy base in Crimea, located on the Black Sea.

Mr. Obama authorized sanctions Thursday against unspecified individuals responsible for “undermining” stability in Ukraine.

The White House said Mr. Obama signed an executive order authorizing sanctions against “individuals and entities” responsible for threatening peace, security and “territorial integrity” in Ukraine.

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