WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry urged Russia on Sunday to pull back its military forces and to let Ukrainians undertake reforms that would address the rights of minorities and determine how political power is to be shared. The White House also stressed that Russia faces penalties that will hurt its economy and diminish its influence in the world if President Vladimir Putin doesn’t back down in Crimea.
In a phone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Sunday, Kerry reiterated the United States would not recognize the results of a referendum taking place in Crimea that would allow it to join Russia or seek greater autonomy as a part of Ukraine, according to the State Department.
White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said the Obama administration’s top priority is supporting the new Ukrainian government “in every way possible.” He also said the United States would not recognize the results of a referendum taking place in Crimea Sunday on whether it should become part of Russia.
Pfeiffer said everything that Russia has done in Crimea has been a violation of international law and bad for stability in the region.
“President Putin has a choice about what he’s going to do here. Is he going to continue to further isolate himself, further hurt his economy, further diminish Russian influence in the world, or is he going to do the right thing?” Pfeiffer said Sunday.
Members of Congress said they were prepared to enact tough sanctions on various Russian leaders, but $1 billion in loan guarantees to help the Ukrainian economy is on hold while Congress is on a break.
“President Putin has started a game of Russian roulette, and I think the United States and the West have to be very clear in their response because he will calculate about how far he can go,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker, said the U.S. and Europe were entering a “defining moment” in their relationship with Russia.
“Putin will continue to do this. He did it in Georgia a few years ago. He’s moved into Crimea, and he will move into other places unless we show that long-term resolve.”
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy returned early Sunday from meetings in Ukraine. He called an annexation vote taking place in Crimea a “sham referendum.” He said that Ukrainians he talked to, both inside and outside the government, said war could occur if Russia attempts to annex more territory. They indicated that “if Russia really does decide to move beyond Crimea, it’s going to be bloody and the fight may be long,” Murphy said.
Pfeiffer spoke on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Menendez and Corker appeared on “Fox News Sunday.” Murphy was on ABC’s “This Week.”