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Poland calls for NATO meeting

The United States and its European allies sought Monday to mobilize outrage over Russian actions in Ukraine, as Poland called for an urgent meeting of NATO, saying it feels threatened by Moscow's moves in the region.

The Polish request for a meeting of NATO's North Atlantic Council came under the same provision that led the alliance early last year to deploy Patriot missile batteries in Turkey for protection against Syria. The Polish appeal for NATO "consultations" did not make clear what action was being sought.

With no response to his demands that Russia withdraw its troops from the autonomous region of Crimea in Russia, President Obama said that Moscow was "on the wrong side of history," and threatened "a whole series of steps--economics, diplomatic" to isolate Russia and "have a negative impact on its economy and its standing in the world."

Obama responded sharply to congressional critics of what some see as his weak response. "I've heard a lot of response from Congress about what should be done, what they want to do. One thing they can do right away," he said, is to join a "unified position that stands outside of partisan politics" to condemn Russian action and approve an economic and political assistance package for Ukraine's interim government.

In a United Nations Security Council session reminiscent of the height of the Cold War, the United States, Britain and France accused Russia of fabricating its justifications for military intervention.

Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin's charge that Moscow had sent troops to head off an "armed takeover by radical extremists" changing "anti-Russian, anti-Semetic slogans" was "without basis in reality," U.S. Ambassador Samatha Power said.

"There is no evidence of violence against Russian or pro-Russian communities" in Crimea, where Russian troops have occupied all government and military buildings, Power said. Instead, she called for Russia to accept a monitoring mission from the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe scheduled to arrive in Ukraine Monday night.

Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland told OSCE representatives in Vienna that "President Obama has made clear to [Russian] President Putin that even as we reject and condemn the action that they have taken, that there is a way out of this situation."

Elsewhere in Europe, the European Union and representatives of the G7 held urgent meetings and issued statements calling for Russian withdrawal.

In Geneva, Russian Foreign Minister Segrei Lavrov charged that "those who are trying to interpret the situation as a sort of aggression, and threatening us with sanctions and boycotts, these are the same partners who have been consistently and vigorously encouraging the political powers close to them to declare ultimatums and renounce dialogue."

In Washington, visiting Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca, whose country is surrounded on three sides by Ukrainian territory, said the situation there was "just a reminder to us" that such situations "can become contagious."

At a meeting of NATO defense ministers last week, alliance members that border Ukraine urged strong action to prevent the spread of instability and Russian aggression in Ukraine. NATO's North Atlantic Council has scheduled a meeting Tuesday in response to Poland's request.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry was headed to Kiev for meetings with interim Ukrainian authorities on Tuesday.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the administration is "highly likely" to impose additional economic and political sanctions on Russia unless it sends its troops in the Crimea back to Russian bases and engages in dialogue with the Kiev government.

"We are not just considering" additional steps, Psaki said. "It is likely we will put [sanctions] in place. . . . We are preparing options and we are likely moving down that path."

"We are far more forward on this than we were even yesterday," she said.

There was little indication that the warnings were having an impact on Russia. Russian forces expanded their control of Crimea on Monday, taking possession of a ferry terminal in the eastern part of the peninsula just across a strait from Russian territory.

Russia's Interfax news agency, quoting a Ukrainian Defense Ministry source, said that the Russian naval commander in Crimea had also demanded that Ukrainian forces on the peninsula surrender by 5 a.m. Tuesday or face a "military storm."

The Russian Defense Ministry late denied the report, calling it "utter nonsense," and Psaki said the United States could neither confirm nor deny the report.

"We don't have any independent information. . . . These reports of threats of force . . . would if true constitute a dangerous escalation of the situation for which we would hold Russia responsible," she said.

Psaki declined to specify additional economic and political sanctions that might be imposed on Russia. The administration has already canceled participation in preparatory meetings for the scheduled G-8 summit schedule to be held in Sochi, Russia, in June.

In a briefing for reporters late Sunday, senior State Department officials spoke of "a broad menu of options to curtail our economic and trade relationship, to look at pressure on individuals who may have been responsible, and to curtail normal activity that we have ongoing with Russia at this time."

[Source: By Karen DeYoung, The Washington Post, 03Mar14]

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