Despite economic sanctions from the West and a warning from President Obama that Russia's continued military incursion into Crimea would result in clear costs, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an order Monday recognizing the Ukrainian region as a “sovereign and independent state.”
The declaration comes a day after a controversial referendum in which Crimea voted overwhelmingly to join Russia and secede from Ukraine. The White House has contended the vote is contrary to Ukraine’s constitution, and was administered under threats of intimidation and violence. The Kremlin, however, said the decree is effective immediately, claiming it is the result of the referendum and the “will of the people” in Crimea.
Putin's move is seen as strategic with the goal of eventually getting Crimea to join the Russian Federation.
Earlier Monday, the White House announced it would issue sanctions against seven Russian officials involved in the crisis. Obama warned: “If Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine, we stand ready to impose further sanctions,” and that not listening will “only deepen Russia’s diplomatic isolation.” Obama noted, however, that diplomacy is possible if Russia pulls its forces in Crimea back to its bases, allows international monitors in Ukraine, and engages in dialogue with the Ukrainian government.
President Obama previously promised a sanctions order, but today the White House released the list of targets. These sanctions come on the heels of the Crimean parliament’s declaration of independence late Sunday following the region’s referendum, where 95.5% of residents affirmed the ballot measure to join Russia.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian region is flying Russian flags and moving forward with plans to adopt the Russian ruble, change its clocks to Moscow Standard Time and pledge allegiance to the Russian Federation – but the West has rejected the region’s claim to independence.
“The international community will not recognize the results of a poll administered under threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military intervention that violates international law,” a statement from the White House read on Sunday. “No decisions about the future of Ukraine should be made without the Ukrainian government.”
The sanctions do not target Vladimir Putin, an extraordinary circumstance the U.S. said it would try to avoid, but does focus on several of his close aides and officials, including Viktor Yanukovych, the deposed president of Ukraine. Still, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday that sanctions against Putin are not off the table.
Relations between the West and Russia are declining rapidly. The United States and European Union both prepared sanctions against Russia, which has had troops occupying Crimea for weeks, and the rest of Ukraine, lead by an interim government in Kiev.
Ukrainian acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said the military mobilization was necessary “considering the continuing aggression in … Crimea, which Russia is trying to disguise with a large farce called ‘referendum’ which will never be accepted by Crimea or the whole civilized world.”
Ukraine’s Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh called on Russia to retreat back to their military bases.
“Russia must immediately withdraw its military troops out of Crimea and the Black Sea Fleet to their places of permanent deployment as it is backed by certain basic agreements between Ukraine and Russia. Ukrainian navy headquarters was and is going to stay in Sevastopol. As for the National Guard, a few days ago, more than 40,000 people have already signed up and volunteered for the military commissariat,” Ukraine’s defense minister said.
Crimean lawmakers asked the United Nations and other countries for recognition Sunday as a delegation of Crimean lawmakers head to Moscow to continue negotiations over joining the Russian federation—something Russian lawmakers have indicated is all but a done deal, according to the Associated Press.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea would be a costly and complicated effort: The Black Sea peninsula of Crimea is deeply dependent on Ukraine’s infrastructure for water, electricity and gas.
On Morning Joe, Connecticut Democrat Sen. Chris Murphy slammed Putin for his actions. He had just returned from a Congressional trip to Ukraine and called the independence vote a “sham.”
"I think he is making this up as we go along,” Murphy said. “I worry, though, that he’s going to realize he needs to move further than Crimea in order to get the end that he desires here.”
Vice President Joe Biden will depart for Europe later on Monday. He’ll meet with officials of NATO allies Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Obama will be in Europe next week.
“Our message will be clear: As NATO allies, we have a solemn commitment to our collective defense and we will uphold this commitment,” said Obama.