Russia and the United States remain on a collision course over the restive Ukrainian region with Washington saying Moscow is violating Ukraine’s sovereignty.
US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin discussed the escalating Ukraine crisis on telephone for an hour on Thursday.
Obama told Putin that “Russia’s actions are in violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, which has led us to take several steps in response in coordination with our European partners.”
He was referring to Washington’s decision of sending US fighter jets to allied countries located near Ukraine, imposing visa restrictions on Russians, ordering sanctions on individuals the White House said were involved in the Russian military intervention in Ukraine, and condemning a proposed referendum in Crimea to break away from Ukraine and join Russia.
Referring to a US military build-up in NATO countries, Obama said the US is taking steps “to reaffirm our commitment to the security and democracy of our allies in Eastern Europe.”
Obama told Putin that there is still a way to resolve the crisis diplomatically and proposed direct talks between Moscow and Kiev while calling for the withdrawal of Russian troops to their base in Crimea.
He also called on Russia to let international monitors into Ukraine to protect the rights of ethnic Russians.
The development came hours after Ukraine’s autonomous republic of Crimea voted to split from Ukraine and become part of Russia, calling a referendum in 10 days to validate its decision.
In response, Obama said that the Crimea referendum “would violate the Ukrainian Constitution and violate international law,” and ordered sanctions on individuals he said were involved in the Russian military intervention in Ukraine, including travel bans and freezing of their US assets.
Washington has also suspended military ties with Russia, including joint maneuvers, port visits and planning meetings over the crisis in Ukraine.
Tensions between Washington and Moscow escalated after the Obama administration accused the Kremlin of planning a military intervention in Ukraine.
Political crisis erupted in Ukraine in November 2013 after the country’s ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, refrained from signing the Association Agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
On February 23, the Ukrainian parliament ousted Yanukovych and named anti-Kremlin Oleksandr Turchynov, the legislature’s newly-elected speaker, as interim president.