US, Germany warn Russia of consequences

US, Germany warn Russia of consequences
US President Barack Obama listening to Ukraine Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on March 12, 2014.

WASHINGTON - The United States and Germany are talking tougher over Russia's involvement in Ukraine ahead of a planned referendum in Crimea on Sunday.

Reiterating warnings that the world would not sit idly by if Moscow attempts to absorb the peninsula, both US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke of the consequences Russia could face.

"Conflicts of interest in the middle of Europe in the 21st century can only be overcome by not resorting to the methods of the 19th and 20th centuries but to the principles and means of our time, the 21st century," Dr Merkel said.

If Russia does not back down, she said in the German Lower House, "it won't just be a catastrophe for Ukraine, it would also cause massive economic and political harm to Russia".

Dr Merkel said European Union foreign ministers would meet on Monday to impose asset freezes and visa restrictions on Russia if it did not move to reach a diplomatic solution by then.

Mr Obama, meeting interim Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk in Washington, once again warned Russia that it would "apply a cost" if Moscow tries to annex Crimea - sticking to wording vague enough so as not to preclude the possibility of military retaliation.

Yet he was quick to highlight his desired outcome. "There's another path available, and we hope that (Russian) President (Vladimir) Putin is willing to seize that path," said Mr Obama.

"But if he does not, I'm very confident that the international community will stand strongly behind the Ukrainian government in preserving its unity and its territorial integrity," he added.

That path appears to involve the possibility of a future Crimea that is not part of Ukraine, although both leaders made it clear that such a secession could not emerge out of Sunday's vote.

"This is a pre-ordained referendum, with an expected result. It seems to me they have already cast the ballots," said Mr Yatsenyuk during a dialogue at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

But he not did rule out a constitutional referendum and also outlined the steps to how one might take place. "We as the Ukrainian government are ready to start a nationwide dialogue on how to increase the rights of the autonomous Republic of Crimea, starting with taxes and ending with other aspects like language issues," Mr Yatsenyuk said.

The Ukrainian premier added that the discussion would have to take place in the Ukrainian Parliament, with all parties at the table "discussing every single issue".

He said: "What we need to do, we need to pass a law in the House, which allows a so-called local referendum, and only afterwards, this referendum could be a constitutional one."

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