Russia G8 status at risk over 'incredible act of aggression' in Crimea, says Kerry
Russia could be expelled from the G8 and face economic sanctions, unless President Vladimir Putin halts his â€œincredible act of aggressionâ€ and withdraws forces from Ukraine, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, warned on Sunday.
Speaking as western nations began suspending preparations for a summit of the eight leading industrialised countries in the Russian city of Sochi in June, Kerry said Moscow could be forced out of the group altogether and face a string of other penalties.
â€œHe is not going to have a Sochi G8, he may not even remain in the G8 if this continues,â€ Kerry told NBC‘s Meet the Press. â€œHe may find himself with asset freezes, on Russian business, American business may pull back, there may be a further tumble of the ruble.â€
On Sunday afternoon, a White House official said President Barack Obama was continuing to be briefed by his national security team on the crisis, and was scheduled to hold telephone calls with British prime minister David Cameron and other allied leaders later in the day.
Claiming Moscow was already isolated in the face of united condemnation from western allies, Kerry told ABC‘s This Week that Putin was inviting â€œvery serious repercussionsâ€ such as visa bans and asset freezes for Russian leaders and even economic sanctions.
On CBS‘s Face the Nation, he reiterated: â€œThey‘re prepared to put sanctions in place, they‘re prepared to isolate Russia economically.â€
The warnings from America‘s most senior diplomat came after Russian forces effectively seized control of the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea. Putin told Obama during a phone call on Saturday that he reserved the right to take further military action in eastern Ukraine.
As the White House struggled to impose pressure on Putin, Kerry accused the Russian leader of acting â€œin 19th-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretextâ€.
â€œIt‘s an incredible act of aggression,â€ he told CBS. â€œIt is really a stunning, wilful choice by President Putin to invade another country. Russia is in violation of the sovereignty of Ukraine. Russia is in violation of its international obligations.â€
Western governments on Sunday threatened to boycott June‘s G8 summit in Sochi, which was supposed to be a crowning glory for the Russian Winter Olympic host city, where the Games recently concluded. Kerry told ABC it was a â€œdistinct possibilityâ€ that the US would end up not attending.
William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said en route to Kiev that the UK would not attend a planning meeting for the summit that had already been abandoned by France and the US.
Obama and Kerry nonetheless faced sharp criticism for their handling of Putin from Republicans, who claim weakness from the White House overseas in recent years had invited aggression from the Kremlin.
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a longstanding critic of Obama‘s foreign policy credentials, urged the president to â€œdo somethingâ€ rather than deliver what he called empty threats to â€œthugs and dictatorsâ€.
â€œEvery time the president goes on television and threatens someone like Putin, everybody‘s eyes roll, including mine,â€ Graham told CNN. â€œWe have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression.â€
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a potential Republican presidential contender in 2016, declared Russia â€œan enemy of the United Statesâ€ and said that it would be â€œimportant to learn from the errors of the last few yearsâ€ in Obama‘s policy towards Russia.
â€œThey‘re not interested in building an international norm that nations conduct themselves under,â€ Rubio told NBC. â€œThey‘re interested in reconstituting Russian power and Russian prestige, often at the expense of US national interests.â€
Denouncing Putin‘s administration as a â€œgovernment of liarsâ€, Rubio urged Obama to â€œstrengthen the interim government in Kievâ€ and revive former president George W Bush‘s plans for a missile defence shield in Poland, which were shelved when Obama entered office.
Graham also called for the missile shield to be revived, and advocated the creation of â€œa democratic noose around Putin‘s Russiaâ€ through aid to neighbouring countries such as Georgia.
Also on Sunday, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United Nations, Yuriy Sergeyev, told CNN: â€œIf aggravation is going in that way, when the Russian troops are enlarging their quantity with every coming hour, naturally we will ask for military support and other kind of support.â€
Kerry played down any suggestion that the US military could become involved in the crisis.
â€œThe last thing anybody wants is a military option in this kind of situation. We want a peaceful resolution through the normal processes of international relations,â€ he told NBC.