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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife

Pro-Russian forces control Crimea.

KYIV/SIMFEROPOL (BosNewsLife)– The European Union and the United States have imposed wide ranging travel bans and asset freezes against dozens of officials from Russia and Ukraine who they blame for Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Monday’s announcements follow a disputed referendum in Crimea where election officials said nearly 97 percent of voters decided to join Russia.

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EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton expressed outrage that the vote on whether to join Russia was held in Crimea amid what she views as a Russian military invasion. “We strongly condemn the holding of this referendum,” she said. “It’s illegal and it is a clear breach of the Ukrainian constitution…”

Ashton spoke after a meeting with European Union Foreign Ministers who decided to impose far reaching sanctions. “In the absence of positive steps, and in line with the statement of European Union leaders on March 6, we decided today to take additional measures more specifically restrictive measures against 21 officials responsible for undermining or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine,” she told reporters.

Earlier in the day, U.S. President Barack Obama said Washington would impose sanctions on 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials blamed for Russia’s military incursion into Crimea, including two top aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin.


“We are imposing sanctions on specific individuals responsible for undermining the sovereignty, territorial integrity and government of Ukraine,” he added.

“We’re making it clear that there are consequences for their actions. Second, I have signed a new executive order that expands the scope of our sanctions. As an initial step, I’m authorizing sanctions on Russian officials — entities operating in the arms sector in Russia and individuals who provide material support to senior officials of the Russian government,” Obama said.

And, he warned, “if Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine, we stand ready to impose further sanctions.”

The sanctions are seen as the most visible sign of U.S. anger at what is seen as Russia’s attempt to absorb the Crimea region of southern Ukraine, reflecting the deepest plunge in U.S.-Russian relations since the Cold War.

Despite Western outrage, Crimea’s parliament declared the region’s independent on Monday, March 17, and formally applied to join Russia.


However amid the turmoil, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church had something to celebrate. Local church officials and police said Priest Mykola Kvych, who was kidnapped by suspected pro-Russian forces on Saturday morning in Crimea’s city of Sevastopol, had been freed.

Yet, in Kyiv, former boxing champion-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko, who is tipped to become Ukraine’s next president, expressed concern that non-Russian religious minorities will still face difficulties if Crimea becomes part of Russia.

“Crimea is today on the brink of a humanitarian disaster. The Ukrainian citizens there are left at the mercy of foreign occupiers and local criminals,” he said. There is also a risk of ethnic cleansing. Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians and all patriots of Ukraine are threatened,” Klitschko warned.

Western diplomats and Ukraine’s government also fear Russia may attempt to absorb other areas in eastern Ukraine, including around the strategic industrial city of Donetsk, following deadly clashes between pro-Moscow and pro-Kyiv protesters.

The government in Kyiv said it would not recognise the referendum results and recalled its ambassador from Moscow for consultations, while Ukraine’s parliament approved the mobilisation of 40,000 reservists amid what it called a “war-time situation”.


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