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US preps tough response for Russia over Ukraine

03 March 2014, 07:44

Washington - Western powers on Sunday prepared a tough response to Russia's military advance into Ukraine and warned that Moscow could face economic penalties, diplomatic isolation and bolstered allied defences in Europe unless it retreats.

The crisis may prove to be a game-changer for President Barack Obama's national security policy, forcing him to give up his foreign policy shift to Asia and to maintain US troop levels in Europe to limit Russia's reach.

The ill will and mistrust also could spill over on two other global security fronts - Syria and Iran - where Russia has been a necessary partner with the West.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gave no indication that he would heed the West's warnings. Hundreds of armed men surrounded a Ukrainian military base in Crimea, a pro-Russian area.

In Kiev, Ukraine's capital, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk alerted allies that "we are on the brink of disaster".

Missile defence systems

Secretary of State John Kerry said he has consulted with other world leaders, and "every single one of them are prepared to go to the hilt in order to isolate Russia with respect to this invasion".

Obama spoke on Sunday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.

Kerry planned to travel to Kiev on Tuesday for meetings with the Ukrainian government. Officials said the Obama administration would also focus this week on putting together a package of economic assistance for Ukraine.

In Brussels, Nato's secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said Russia's actions have violated the UN Charter. He said the alliance was re-evaluating its relationship with Russia.

"There are very serious repercussions that can flow out of this," Kerry said.

Beyond economic sanctions and visa bans, freezing Russian assets, and trade and investment penalties, Kerry said Moscow risks being booted out of the powerful Group of Eight of world industrial powers as payback for the military incursion.

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew told a Washington audience on Sunday that the United States is ready to work with other countries and the International Monetary Fund to provide support to bolster Ukraine's economy.

He said he had been assured in discussions with Ukrainian officials that the new government is prepared to pursue the reforms needed to overhaul the country's ailing economy.

Lew said the administration was ready to supplement emergency IMF loans to cushion the impact economic reforms would have on vulnerable Ukrainians.

"The United States is prepared to work with its bilateral and multilateral partners to provide as much support as Ukraine needs to restore financial stability and return to economic growth if the new government implements the necessary reforms," Lew said during a speech on Sunday night to the annual policy conference of Aipac, America's largest pro-Israel lobbying group.

Several US senators also called for bolstered missile defence systems based in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Russia is "going to be inviting major difficulties for the long term," said Kerry. "The people of Ukraine will not sit still for this. They know how to fight."

Still, it was clear that few in the West were prepared to respond immediately to Putin with military force.

Erosion of stability

At the Vatican, Pope Francis used his traditional Sunday midday appearance in St Peter's Square to urge world leaders to promote dialogue as a way of resolving the crisis in Ukraine.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio, discussing the potential of US military strikes against Russian troops in Crimea, said, "I don't think anyone is advocating for that".

One of the administration officials indicated that the US was not weighing military action to counter Russia's advances, saying the Obama administration's efforts were focused on political, economic and diplomatic options.

Rubio said it would be difficult to rein in Moscow. He said Putin has "made a cost-benefit analysis. He has weighed the costs of doing what he's done, and ... clearly he has concluded that the benefits far outweigh the costs. We need to endeavour to change that calculus."

As a starter, Rubio and fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said the Obama administration should return to plans it abandoned in 2009 to place long-range missile interceptors and radar in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Russia believed the programme was aimed at countering its own missiles and undermining its nuclear deterrent. The White House denied that and has worked instead to place medium-range interceptors in Poland and Romania - aimed at stopping missiles from Iran and North Korea.

Experts said potential US budget cuts to Army units based in Germany also could be slowed, or scrapped completely, to prevent a catastrophic erosion of stability and democracy from creeping across Europe.

The Pentagon is considering new reductions to Army units in Germany that already have been slashed under Obama. Currently, there are two Army brigades - up to 10 000 soldiers - based in Germany, where armoured and infantry units have dug in since World War II.

At the end of the Cold War, more than 200 000 American forces were stationed across Europe.

Refocus on Russia

Damon Wilson, an Eastern European scholar, former diplomat and executive vice president of the Washington-based Atlantic Council think tank, said the US must be ready to pour its efforts into Ukraine, even at the cost of policies and priorities elsewhere.

"We should be no longer deluded by the fact that Europe is a safe spot of stability and security, and not a security risk for the US," Wilson said Sunday. He said that if Putin goes unchecked, it could result in war - the second one on Nato's borders.

The 3-year-old civil war in Syria is already a crisis for neighbouring Turkey, a Nato member state. Ukraine is not a Nato member, but it borders four nations that are - Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.

"This is the biggest challenge to Obama's presidency," Wilson said. "This is a pretty tectonic shift in our perception of European security."

Wilson said the White House may have to abandon the policy shift to Asia - its attempt to boost America's military, diplomatic and economic presence there - to refocus on Russia's threat.

Officials say the US and the West would not be able to roll over Russia on any number of global diplomatic or economic fronts.

Russia has made clear it is ready to provide weapons and military equipment to governments across the Mideast that have irked Washington. Russia's permanent seat on the UN Security Council gives it veto power over major world deliberations.

"The challenge is, we do need to have some kind of working relationship with Russia," Democratic Representative Adam Schiff said on Sunday.

"And while we can impose these costs and take these steps, we've got to be mindful of the fact that they can impose their own costs on us."

- AP


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