President Obama told Russia President Vladimir Putin in a 60-minute phone call to pull back Russian forces in Crimea and hold direct talks with Ukraine’s new government or face diplomatic and economic sanctions. Once again, Putin laughed off Obama’s warnings and the European Union’s threats of sanctions.
After an hour-long telephone call, Putin said in a statement that Moscow and Washington were still far apart on the situation in the former Soviet republic, where he said the new authorities had taken “absolutely illegitimate decisions on the eastern, southeastern and Crimea regions.
“Russia cannot ignore calls for help and it acts accordingly, in full compliance with international law,” Putin said.
On Thursday, Crimea’s parliament asked Russia to join the Russian Federation, which sent a ripple through Ukraine, the EU, and the U.S. Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk said the move is unconstitutional, and Obama backed him up. But if Putin accepts the proposal, Crimea will hold a referendum on March 16, and residents will vote for Crimea’s status.
Later in the day, the U.S. implemented visa restrictions on Russians and Crimeans who are a threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty. The EU froze assets of Ukraine’s ousted President Viktor Yanukovych and 17 other people suspected of embezzling state funds. They also decided to stop all talks on visa-free travel with Russia.
Putin claimed there are no plans to annex Crimea, but said the residents of the peninsula had a right to determine if they want to be a part of Russia or Ukraine. Despite this claim, members of Russia and Crimea parliament met early Friday morning to discuss the March 16 referendum. Valentina Matvienko, speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, said Crimea would be welcome as a part of Russia. Parliament is pushing through legislation, which would simplify the process for Crimea to join Russia.
Russia lashed out at the EU over the visa-free travel talks:
Russia accuses the EU of taking an “extremely unconstructive position” by freezing talks on easing visa barriers for travel between Russia and the EU. “Russia will not accept the language of sanctions and threats,” the foreign ministry in Moscow says on its website. It promises to retaliate if sanctions are put into effect.