US Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Kiev this week in a high-profile show of support for the embattled Ukrainian leadership, as Washington began Sunday to implement punishing cuts in normal ties with Moscow.
The announcement came after Kerry warned Russia risked being stripped of its coveted seat among the prestigious Group of Eight nations for its “brazen act of aggression” of sending troops into Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
The surprise Kiev stop was added onto the top US diplomat’s planned trip to Rome and Paris amid growing alarm at fast-moving events in Ukraine, with senior officials saying Russian forces now had “complete operational control” of southern Crimea.
Kerry will meet Tuesday “with senior representatives of Ukraine’s new government, leaders of the Rada and members of civil society,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
He “will reaffirm the United States’ strong support for Ukrainian sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity,” she added.
Washington has renewed calls for Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back his troops, with a senior US administration official saying Moscow was “in an occupation commission in Crimea. They are flying in reinforcements and they are settling in.”
After a 90-minute phone call with Putin on Saturday, President Barack Obama spoke Sunday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron and Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.
The leaders expressed “their grave concern over Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is a breach of international law and a threat to international peace and security,” a White House statement said.
They also pledged to work together on a financial aid package for cash-strapped Ukraine.
In the call with Cameron, “they agreed there must be ‘significant costs’ to Russia if it did not change course on Ukraine,” Downing Street said.
Washington and its G8 allies were prepared to slap sanctions on Moscow, Kerry said, warning of damage to billions of dollars in trade and investment, as well as possible visa bans and moves by American businesses to leave Russia.
Kerry’s blunt comments came as Kiev’s interim leaders warned their country was on the brink of disaster, calling up military reservists after the Russian parliament voted to allow Putin to send in troops.
“If Russia wants to be a G8 country, it needs to behave like a G8 country,” Kerry told CBS television’s “Face the Nation.”
Putin “is not going to have a Sochi G8, he may not even remain in the G8 if this continues. He may find himself with asset freezes on Russian business, American business may pull back, there may be a further tumble of the ruble,” Kerry warned on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
– Military option ‘last thing’ anyone wants –
The US, Britain and France have already pulled out of preparatory meetings for the G8, and have threatened to boycott the June summit.
“Russia’s actions are incompatible with the basic underlying principles that allowed us to bring them into the G8 in the first place,” the senior administration official told reporters, asking not to be named.
Some economic talks have already been cancelled, as well as a visit by a Russian delegation to Washington to discuss energy.
And a major military event due to be held soon would also likely be shelved.
NATO called Sunday for the dispatch of international observers to Ukraine, while also seeking talks with Moscow.
US officials are working to try to get international monitors and observers into flashpoint areas.
But Kerry steered clear of warning of any US military action.
“The 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,” he said.
Kerry again urged Putin to de-escalate tensions, saying “Russia and President Putin are aligning themselves with this kleptocracy” of ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych.
“I think this is an enormous mistake for Russia,” he added.
Kerry said US economic sanctions would be imposed on Moscow.
“All options are on the table. There’s no question but that Russia needs to understand this is serious,” he told ABC’s “This Week.”
And he warned on the CBS program that “the G8 plus some others… are prepared to go to the hilt in order to isolate Russia with respect to this invasion.”
Russia’s economic growth slowed to 1.3 percent in 2013, down from 3.4 percent the year before, and the ruble has lost more than eight percent against the euro since the start of the year.