President Obama warned Friday there “will be costs” if Russian takes military action inside Ukraine.
In a brief appearance in the White House press briefing room, Obama said his administration was “deeply concerned” by reports that the Russian military is already intervening in the Crimea, an area of Ukraine with strong Russian ties.
“Any violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing, which is not in the interests of Ukraine, Russia or Europe," Obama said. "It would represent a profound interference in matters that must be determined by the Ukrainian people."
"Just days after the world came to Russia for the Olympic games, it would invite the condemnation of nations around the world," Obama said. "And indeed, the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine."
Sochi, the site of the Winter games, is just 400 miles from Simferopol, the capitol of the Crimea region. Reporters in Simferopol said several hundred masked troops wearing green camouflage had fanned out across the city, following the arrival of at least five Russian transport planes and 11 Russian military helicopters.
The armed men secured both a civilian and military airport near the city, as well as government buildings. Airspace over the region was also reportedly closed, and telephone and Internet service in the region had been largely shut down.
Obama said his administration had remained in touch with Kremlin officials since he and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke a week ago. He pledged to coordinate with allies in Europe, and said Vice President Biden had contacted the Ukrainian prime minister to affirm U.S. support.
“Throughout this crisis, we have been very clear about one fundamental principle: the Ukrainian people deserve the opportunity to determine their own future," Obama said. "Together with our European allies, we have urged an end to the violence and encouraged Ukrainians to pursue a course in which they have stabilized their country, forge a broad-based government and move to elections this spring."
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement that in recent years "many of our partners and allies have feared our acquiescence" in response to Russia's "meddling in the affairs of its neighbors, especially Georgia and Moldova would embolden Russia to take additional and escalatory aggressive action. Those fears have been confirmed today."
Boehner said the Obama administration and the EU "have a responsibility to work together to maximize the economic and political pressure on Russia to withdraw its troops and work in a constructive manner to promote an inclusive government in Ukraine and to stabilize the Ukrainian economy."
House Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) echoed the president's "grave concern" in a statement.
"Russia’s leaders must understand that military intervention and further interference in Ukraine’s affairs are unacceptable, and would result in significant consequences for Russia," Cantor said.
The Virginia Republican added that "in the days ahead, Congress will be looking for ways to help bolster the Ukrainian government’s efforts to stabilize the economy, restore their sovereignty, and promote political reconciliation.”
Earlier Friday, Ukrainian acting president Oleksander Turchinov accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of “provocations” against Ukraine in televised comments.
“Russia has sent forces into Crimea ... they are working on scenarios which are fully analogous with Abkhazia, when having initiated a military conflict, they started to annex the territory,” he said.
Ukraine's U.N. ambassador also informed the Security Council about the Russian military activity and asked for an emergency meeting.
Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters earlier Friday he spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov about the reports of Russian military action. Kerry told reporters Lavrov had assured him that Russia was "not engaging in any violation of the sovereignty" of Ukraine.
Kerry said he nevertheless emphasized that an intervention could be misinterpreted, "and that there are enough tensions that it is important for everybody to be extremely careful not to inflame the situation."
Updated at 6:04 p.m. and 6:27 p.m.