The United States has warned Russia that it would hold the Kremlin “directly responsible” if it has threatened use of force against Ukrainian military.
“Reports of an ultimatum, if true, constitute a dangerous escalation of the situation for which we would hold Russia directly responsible,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday.
She made the warning after reports said Moscow had issued an ultimatum to the crews of two Ukrainian warships to surrender immediately and four Russian ships were around the Ukrainian ships in Sevastopol’s harbor.
A representative of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet said the claims were unfounded.
“We have become accustomed to the daily accusations by the Ukrainian media of carrying out some sort of military actions against our Ukrainian colleagues,” he said. “Those who want to pit us against each other in the Crimea won’t succeed.”
Russian Black Sea Fleet also says it has no plans to launch an assault on Ukrainian military units in Crimea.
Russian President Vladimir Putin visited a military maneuver site close to the borders with Ukraine. Russian officials say the drills are aimed at boosting the capabilities of the Russian army.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Ukraine for meetings on Tuesday.
“The secretary will reaffirm the United States’ strong support for Ukrainian sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and the right of the Ukrainian people to determine their own future, without outside interference or provocation,” Psaki said.
During a press conference on Monday, US President Barack Obama threatened Russia with sanctions.
“The strong condemnation that Russian has received around the world indicates the degree to which Russia is on the wrong side of history,” he told reporters.
“There are two paths that Russia can take at this point. Actions on the ground in Crimea are deeply troubling but what is also true is that over time, this will be a costly proposition for Russia. Now is the time to consider whether they can further their interests with diplomacy as opposed to force,” Obama said.
The US president noted that if Russia continues on present path, the United States will take a “series of steps – economic, diplomatic – that will isolate Russia.”