Vice President Joe Biden warned Moscow on Wednesday that the U.S. will not stand for Russian aggression against NATO allies – just as several hundred pro-Russian forces reportedly took over a key Crimean naval base.
In Vilnius, Lithuania, Biden told reporters: “As long as Russia continues on this dark path, they will face increased economic isolation. The president wanted me to come personally to make it clear what you already know, that under Article 5 under the NATO treaty, we will respond. We will respond to any aggression against a NATO ally.”
Authorities in several Baltic countries have expressed fear that Moscow’s intentions go well beyond Crimea, following Russian President Vladimir Putin signing a treaty with Crimean leaders to annex the peninsula from Ukraine. Unlike Ukraine, Poland and the Baltics are member states of NATO. There is a substantial Russian population in the Baltics.
At the navy base in the main Crimean town of Sevastopol, Russian-backed forces were seen storming the naval headquarters and raising a Russian flag, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, a Ukrainian serviceman was killed Tuesday in Crimea – the first death in the fighting between pro-Russia forces and Ukraine since Moscow sent in troops there three weeks ago.
Putin has pointed to Sunday’s 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, says the referendum expressed the “will of the people” in Crimea.
The White House on Monday announced it was issuing sanctions against seven Russian officials involved in the escalating crisis. President Obama, who will attend a security summit in the Netherlands, has invited leaders of the G7 industrial powers to gather for an emergency meeting next week to discuss the crisis in Ukraine.
National Security Council spokeswoman CaitlinHayden said Tuesday, “The United States and the other members of the G7 have already suspended our preparations for the G8 Summit in Sochi,” which was scheduled in June. “… The meeting will focus on the situation in Ukraine and further steps that the G7 may take to respond to developments and to support Ukraine.”