President Barack Obama urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to withdraw forces from Ukraine on Saturday or face “greater political and economic isolation,” during a 90-minute phone conversation evocative of a Cold War contest of wills. Putin demurred, saying that Russia reserved the right to protect the lives of Russian citizens against the U.S.-backed “ultranationalists” that took over the government in Kiev last week.
Secretary of State John Kerry turned up the heat on Saturday night by condemning what he called "the Russian Federation's invasion and occupation of Ukrainian territory,” according to a CNN report, while Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev denied that a decision had been made regarding the dispatch of forces.
Yet Yegor Pyvovarov, spokesman for the Ukraine mission at the United Nations, claimed Russia had 15,000 troops in Ukraine's Crimea region. Meanwhile, acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov warned Russia that any military intervention would lead to war.
Russia has been roundly condemned by a number of Western countries after unmarked aircraft and masked men were detected crossing into the autonomous region of Crimea on Friday. But, according to Russia’s Foreign Ministry, all movements have been in accordance with basic Russian-Ukrainian agreements vis-à-vis the Black Sea Fleet.
Chairman of the Russian Federation Council, Valentina Matvienko, indicated that the Crimean government actually asked Moscow to send troops to Ukraine “to ensure the safety of the Black Sea Fleet and the Russian citizens living on Crimean territory.”
Russia acted in response to a plea by the newly-chosen prime minister of Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, who told local media on Saturday: "Taking into account my responsibility for the life and security of citizens, I ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to help in ensuring peace and calm on the territory of Crimea."
The White House, in a statement released Saturday, said the U.S. would suspend participation in G8 summit meetings slated for June in Sochi and in coming days would "urgently consult with allies and partners in the UN Security Council, the North Atlantic Council, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and with the signatories of the Budapest Memorandum.”
The statement also said that President Obama had made clear to Putin that “continued violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would negatively impact Russia’s standing in the international community.”
Paul Gregory chastised Obama in a Forbes piece by referring to the president as a “paper tiger” and accusing him of being “naïve enough to think that Putin will be deterred by international opprobrium.” Gregory also writes: “The constellation of forces – a political vacuum in Ukraine, a weak and indecisive U.S. president, and a European herd of cats — are aligned for him to get away with the annexation – formal or de facto – of a prized portion of Ukraine.”
In an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast entitled, "McCain Tells Obama How to Punish Putin," Senator John McCain advocated for "the sanctioning of high-level Russian officials; restarting missile defense plans in Eastern Europe; and bringing Georgia, a former Soviet republic, into NATO."
International legal expert Alexander Mercouris told RT on Saturday that a Russian military presence could actually stabilize Crimea in the midst of chaos caused by the ascendance of an illegitimate regime in Kiev. Eric Draitser accused the Western powers of hypocrisy, specifically blaming elements within the U.S, EU and NATO for instigating the unrest in the first place.
For months Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly government was locked in a bloody struggle against pro-Western factions before protesters finally took control of the capital on February 21, forced President Yanukovych to flee to Russia and set new presidential elections for May 25.