MOSCOW, Mar 2 – US President Barack Obama told President Vladimir Putin Saturday that Russia was flouting international law and risking political isolation by its military incursion into Ukraine’s Crimea region, as international condemnation increased.
The 90-minute telephone call between the two leaders the kind of direct confrontation between the White House and the Kremlin rarely seen since the Cold War came after the Russian parliament gave Putin the green light to send troops into neighbouring Ukraine.
Ukraine’s interim leaders immediately responded by both putting its army on heightened alert and voicing confidence that war will be averted because it would break the two neighbours’ historic relations for good.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation called emergency talks with its 28 ambassadors for Sunday at 1200 GMT to discuss the escalating crisis.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya said Kiev had appealed to NATO “with a request to consider all options to defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine”, according to the Interfax news agency.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said ahead of a visit to Kiev on Sunday that he had summoned the Russian ambassador to register his concerns over Moscow’s “potentially grave threat to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine”.
Obama told Putin that his actions were a “breach of international law, including Russia’s obligations under the UN Charter, and of its 1997 military basing agreement with Ukraine”.
US officials have warned that Obama and other European leaders were unlikely to show up at the G8 summit in the showcase Black Sea resort of Sochi if the Ukraine crisis was not resolved.
“Going forward, Russia’s continued violation of international law will lead to greater political and economic isolation,” the White House warned in a statement.
Condemning the “unwarranted escalation of tensions”, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said the 28-nation bloc’s foreign ministers would hold crisis talks on Monday.
US Secretary of State John Kerry told Moscow it was risking regional peace and security.
“The effect on US-Russian relations and on Russia’s international standing will be profound,” Kerry said in a statement.
Kerry also revealed he had held a joint conference call earlier in the day with his global counterparts “to coordinate on next steps”.
A bloody three-month uprising in the former Soviet republic swept pro-EU leaders to power in Kiev, while also sparking a pro-Kremlin backlash on the Crimean peninsula.
In a stark escalation of what threatens to become the worst crisis in relations between Moscow and the West since the Cold War, Kalashnikov-wielding militia hoisted the Russian flag over Crimean government buildings and seized control of the peninsula’s airports.
Pro-Kremlin rallies also swept several big eastern and southern Ukrainian cities whose cultural links to Moscow stretch back centuries and whose economic survival depends largely on Russian trade.
Putin’s shock decision to seek authorisation from the upper house of parliament to use force in the country of 46 million came less than a day after Obama warned that any such action would carry “costs” for Moscow.