US vice president reassures fellow NATO members as Russians continue takeover of Crimea
NATO members can rest assured that the United States will defend them against aggressors, the US vice president, Joe Biden, said today while visiting the Baltic states.
His comments in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, were widely seen as a warning to Russia not to attempt anything with the three small Baltic nations in the wake of Moscow’s takeover of Crimea.
To reassure nervous leaders in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, each part of the Soviet Union but since 2004 NATO members, Biden said in comments reported by international media that “we’re in this together.”
After meeting the Lithuanian and Latvian presidents, he reassured countries in the region that the US was “absolutely committed” to defending its allies in NATO.
Recent developments in Crimea, coupled with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s 2005 comments that the break-up of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century, have led to concern among some ex-Soviet European nations that Russia could try to further increase the territory under its control.
Today, pro-Russian forces cemented their control of the formerly Ukrainian controlled peninsula of Crimea when they stormed the Ukrainian naval headquarters in Sevastopol. The head of the Ukrainian navy, Serhiy Hayduk, who was at the base, has reportedly been taken into custody by Russian security officials.
Many Ukrainian personnel left the base, despite orders to remain, while others were said to have barricaded themselves in and were refusing to submit to Russian authority. Russian flags have replaced Ukrainian ones on flagpoles.
It came a day after a Ukrainian military officer was reportedly killed at a base in Simferopol, the Crimean capital. Reports in Russian media indicated that a member of the pro-Russian military forces in Crimea was killed by a sniper yesterday.
Following a referendum in Crimea on Sunday that saw 97 percent of voters in favor of leaving Ukraine, Russia’s constitutional court has now approved a draft bill that will see Crimea absorbed into Russia, with the parliament in Moscow now set to approve the move.
Diplomatic efforts to rein-in Russia continue, with Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary general, due to meet Putin tomorrow before holding talks with Ukraine’s new pro-western administration the day after.
In a further development today, the British prime minister, David Cameron, warned Russia could be expelled from the G8 organization of major economies over its actions in Crimea.
With Russia showing no signs of withdrawing its forces from the peninsula, western nations are also thought to be mulling the possibility of strengthening sanctions against Moscow to deter it from taking control of parts of eastern Ukraine that are mostly Russian-speaking. Earlier this week, travel bans and foreign asset freezes were announced against a number of senior figures in Moscow, Crimea and the former administration in Kiev, including the ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych.
Ukraine has been gripped by turmoil since November, when Yanukovych reversed plans to sign an association agreement with the European Union. Instead, he went on to agree to a package of aid from Moscow, a move that heightened anti-government protests and helped lead to his eventual removal by lawmakers in Kiev last month.