Russian President Vladimir Putin formally requested permission from the Russian Senate to use military force in Ukraine, defying a warning by President Obama on Friday to stay out of the Crimean peninsula.
The request, which was quickly approved, was the latest provocation in a rapidly unfolding crisis following the ouster of Ukraine’s president Viktor Yanukovych, in a popular uprising.
“It would represent a profound interference in matters that must be determined by the Ukrainian people,” Obama said. “It would be a clear violation of Russia’s commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty and borders of Ukraine, and of international laws. And just days after the world came to Russia for the Olympic Games, it would invite the condemnation of nations around the world. And indeed, the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”
After the statement, Vice President Joseph Biden spoke to the new Ukrainian prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and reaffirmed the U.S.’s “strong support for the new government and our commitment to the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and democratic future of Ukraine,” the White House said.
By Saturday morning, however, according to press reports from the region, the new pro-Russian prime minister of Crimea, Sergei Akysonov, claimed control of the military and appealed to Putin for help in securing government buildings.
“I’m submitting a request for using the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine pending the normalization of the socio-political situation in that country,” Putin said in his request to the upper house of the Russian parliament, according to the Washington Post.
Crimea is a peninsula in the Black Sea heavily populated by Russians, and the Russian Federation still retains military installations there.
The turmoil in Ukraine over its ties to Russia comes less than a week after the conclusion of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. According to multiple press reports, a senior Obama administration official on Friday said the U.S.’s participation in the upcoming G8 summit in Sochi this summer was in doubt after Putin’s incursion into Crimea.
In the aftermath of Obama’s statement, Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress called on the administration to assist a democratic transition in Ukraine following last week’s coup.
“We are prepared to work with your administration to reinforce your efforts by authorizing U.S. loan guarantees to Ukraine and increasing assistance to facilitate a peaceful transition of power,” a bipartisan group of senators on the Foreign Relations Committee wrote to the president Friday night. “We also believe that the U.S. should make use of the tools at its disposal, including targeted sanctions; and asset recovery targeting corruption, to dissuade individuals who would foment unrest to undermine Ukraine's territorial integrity or employ coercive economic measures against the Ukrainian people and the new Ukrainian government.”
The senators said they do not “seek confrontation” with Putin but that “a peaceful, democratic, stable, and sovereign Ukraine is in our national interest.”
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in a statement on Friday implicitly criticized Obama for the U.S.’s “silence in the face of Russia’s systemic and persistent meddling in the affairs of its neighbors.” That silence, Boehner said, had led to fears that Russia would be emboldened to take additional aggressive actions elsewhere.
“Those fears have been confirmed today,” Boehner said. “Both the administration and the European Union 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.”
This story was updated at 10:32 a.m.