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Obama Calls for G7 Meeting After Putin Signs Treaty to Annex Crimea

by VOA News March 18, 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Crimean leaders signed a treaty Tuesday to make the Black Sea peninsula part of Russia, while the White House announced the United States and its G7 allies will gather next week to consider further response to the Crimea crisis.

The G7 meeting will take place on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit at The Hague that U.S. President Barack Obama plans to attend.

'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,'' said White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.

Simferopol shooting

Ukrainian troops said Tuesday that they were being attacked by Russian forces at a base in Crimea's main city, Simferopol, the Interfax news agency reported.

The report quoted a Ukrainian military spokesman.

'One Ukrainian serviceman has been wounded in the neck and collarbone. Now we have barricaded ourselves on the second floor,' he said. 'The headquarters has been taken and the commander has been taken. They want us to put down our arms but we do not intend to surrender.''

Vladislav Seleznyov, a Ukrainian military spokesman in Crimea, confirmed a Ukrainian officer was wounded at a military facility on the outskirts of Simferopol, but it was unclear who was behind the shooting.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said the conflict in Crimea has moved from the political to the military stage and called for an urgent meeting with his Russian, British and U.S. counterparts.

Absorbing Crimea

Joining Putin in signing the document to integrate Crimea with Russia were Sergei Askyonov, the prime minister of Crimea's regional government, and other officials, including Aleksei Chalov, the mayor of the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, where Russia's Black Sea fleet is based.

The Kremlin said on its website that Crimea 'shall be deemed accepted in the Russian Federation from the date of signing the treaty.'

The treaty was signed shortly after Putin told Russia's parliament in a televised address that Crimea has always been an 'inalienable' part of Russia, and a day after he signed a decree recognizing the peninsula as 'a sovereign and independent country.'

The Russian parliament is expected to begin the process of ratifying the treaty within days, the Itar-Tass news agency cited a senior lawmaker as saying.

'We will begin ratification soon. This will happen in the next few days,'' lower house vice-speaker Alexander Zhukov said.

Ukraine's foreign ministry said Tuesday that it does not recognise the treaty.

The Black Sea peninsula voted to secede from Ukraine in a referendum Sunday that the U.S. and the European Union declared illegal.

But Putin said Tuesday that the referendum complied with democratic and international norms.

Crimean officials said the final ballot count showed 97 percent of voters favoring independence from Ukraine.

However, senior White House officials told reporters they have concrete evidence that some ballots in the referendum were pre-marked when they arrived in cities before the vote.

Rising concern

Putin also declared Kyiv the cradle of Russian civilization and expressed hope Russia and Ukraine can continue to co-exist.

But with reports of several incursions by Russian or Russian-backed armed personnel in eastern Ukraine, outside of Crimea, there is rising concern throughout the country whether Russia will be satisfied with only annexing Crimea.

Ukraine's prime minister Yatsenyuk says there is 'convincing evidence' Russian special services are organizing unrest in the eastern part of the country.

'There are saboteurs who have been arrested,' Yatsenyuk said. 'There is no place in Ukraine for these warmongers.'

Some Ukrainians tell VOA their families, even in the central part of the country, are stocking up on bread, water and medication, due to concerns tensions will escalate in the next several months amid worries there could be war.

Putin says Moscow has no designs on other parts of the former Soviet republic.

In 1954, Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev gifted the Crimean peninsula to the Ukrainian republic, then part of the USSR.

International reaction

Poland said on Tuesday that the international community cannot accept Russia's intervention in Crimea.

​​'Russia's annexation of Crimea can't be accepted by the international community including Poland. In one moment this changes the country's [Ukraine] borders and the geopolitical situation in this region of the world,'' Prime Minister Donald Tusk said at a joint news conference with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden is in to Warsaw to reassure Poland, a NATO member, that it is safe in the face of events in Ukraine. The vice president will also meet with the leaders of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.

​​​U.S. President Barack Obama Monday declared a freeze on the assets of seven Russian officials and four Ukrainians who have supported Crimea's separation from Ukraine. He pledged 'unwavering' support for Ukraine and said more sanctions on Russia are possible.

​'We'll continue to make clear to Russia that further provocations will achieve nothing except to further isolate Russia and diminish its place in the world,' Obama said. 'The international community will continue to stand together to oppose any violations of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, and continued Russian intervention in Ukraine will only deepen Russia's diplomatic isolation and exact a greater toll on the Russian economy.'

​Earlier Monday, the European Union designated 21 officials from Russia and Ukraine for travel bans and trade sanctions.

In New York, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday voiced 'deep disappointment' with Sunday's secession vote.

In Kyiv Sunday, Ukraine's interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called the Moscow-backed Crimea vote 'a circus spectacle' directed at gunpoint by Russia.

Ukraine not seeking NATO membership

Ukraine's new pro-Western leadership is not seeking membership in NATO, Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk said on Tuesday, in comments intended to reassure Russia and Ukraine's large number of Russian-speakers.

'Strictly with a view to maintaining Ukraine's unity, the question of joining NATO is not on the agenda,'' Yatsenyuk, who normally speaks in Ukrainian, said in a 10-minute televised appeal delivered in Russian. 'The country will be defended by a strong, modern Ukrainian army.''

Yatsenyuk also said decentralisation of power was a key plank of government policy, adding Kyiv's efforts to integrate with Europe would take into account the interests of Ukraine's mainly Russian-speaking industrial east.

Gazprom makes offer

Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom has proposed to develop Crimea's oil and gas sector, an official of the Ukrainian region was quoted by RIA news agency as saying on Tuesday.

"Of course, Gazprom was the first to approach us [with a proposal]," said Rustam Temirgaliev, Crimea's first deputy prime minister.

He was asked if the Ukrainian region, which declared its independence and applied to join Russia following a weekend referendum, had received proposals from Russian companies to develop its oil and gas industry.

A Gazprom spokesman declined to comment.

Last week, Temirgaliev said that the local authorities may sell the energy firm Chornomornaftohaz to a Russian company "such as Gazprom" once the region takes control of the firm, which is now part of a Ukrainian state energy company.

Some information in this report was contribued by VOA's Steve Herman in Kyiv and by Reuters.

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