West will prevail over Ukraine, says Obama

The United States and the European Union agreed last night to work together to prepare possible tougher economic sanctions in response to Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine – including to make Europe less dependent on Russian gas.

Barack Obama speaking in Brussels yesterday. Picture: Reuters

Speaking after a summit with top EU officials, US president Barack Obama said Russian president Vladimir Putin had miscalculated if he thought he could divide the West or count on its indifference over his annexation of Crimea.

Earlier this week, leaders of the Group of Seven major industrial powers decided to hold off over sanctions targeting Moscow’s economy unless Mr Putin took further action to destabilise Ukraine or other former Soviet republics.

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But Mr Obama last night told a joint news conference with European Council president Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission president José Manuel Barroso: “If Russia continues on its current course, however, the isolation will deepen, sanctions will increase and there will be more consequences for the Russian economy.”

In the keynote address of his European trip, Mr Obama later told an audience of 2,000 young people the West would prevail if it remained united – not by military action but by the power of its values to attract ordinary Ukrainians.

He said Russia would not be “dislodged from Crimea or deterred from further escalation by military force”. He went on: “But with time, so long as we remain united, the Russian people will recognise that they cannot achieve security, prosperity and the status they seek through brute force.”

In the speech in a Brussels concert hall, which resembled a point-by-point rebuttal of Mr Putin’s Kremlin speech on 18 March, Mr Obama voiced respect for a strong Russia but said “that does not mean that Russia can run roughshod over its neighbours”.

He also said Nato would step up its presence in new east European member states bordering on Russia and Ukraine to provide reassurance that the alliance’s mutual defence guarantee would protect them.

It came as Russian forces in Crimea captured the last Ukrainian navy ship after firing warning shots and stun grenades, completing Moscow’s takeover of military installations in the Black Sea peninsula.

Western concern has focused on Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s eastern border, amid Kremlin allegations of attacks on Russian speakers in that industrial region of the country.

But Polish prime minister Donald Tusk said it seemed likely that the firm western response so far would stop Russia undertaking what he called “other acts of aggression and interference on the territory of Ukraine”.

The new Ukrainian authorities announced a radical 50 per cent increase in the price of domestic gas from 1 May, meeting an unpopular condition for International Monetary Fund aid which Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovich had refused before he was ousted last month.

The IMF is expected to announce a bailout package for Ukraine of about £9 billion as early as today.

Cameron insists UK will stand up for Ukrainians

DAVID Cameron promised to “stand up very strongly” for the Ukrainian people as he met a delegation of the country’s politicians, including former boxer Vitali Klitschko.

The Prime Minister yesterday welcomed the delegation to Downing Street and told them the UK would continue to speak out about the “unacceptability” of Russian behaviour.

After the meeting, Mr Klitschko said “we expect support from Great Britain” and draped himself in the Ukrainian flag as he spoke to demonstrators demanding action against Russia.

Mr Cameron said: “Britain will stand up very strongly for the Ukrainian people to determine their own future – a future that we hope you will choose to have a close relationship with countries like Britain and the European Union, but a future in which you also choose to have a strong and positive relationship with Russia.”

He added: “We will continue to send very tough messages about the unacceptability of Russian behaviour.”

In the Commons, Mr Cameron warned that a failure to stand up to president Vladimir Putin over Crimea would lead to “unacceptable behaviour” by Russia in other neighbouring countries.

He reaffirmed Britain’s commitment to the guarantees given to the Baltic states and to Poland as members of Nato – which regards an attack on one alliance member as an attack upon all.

“Russia’s violation of international law is a challenge to the rule of law around the world and should be a concern for all nations,” Mr Cameron told MPs. “We have to be clear how unacceptable it is and to see through these economic sanctions and consequences.”