The Obama administration, its top European partners and the U.N. Security Council spent much of Saturday trying to fashion a response to the rapid escalation of the Ukraine crisis as Russian troops took up positions throughout the autonomous republic of Crimea.
The U.N. Security Council met in emergency session for the second time in as many days. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was “gravely concerned” and expected to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin later in the day.
Outside a White House meeting of President Barack Obama’s top national security advisers Saturday morning, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel telephoned his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, and Secretary of State John Kerry called interim Ukraine President Oleksandr Turchynov, U.S. officials said.
Robert Serry, a senior U.N. official whom Ban dispatched to Ukraine on a fact-finding mission earlier in the week, said he was unable to comply with U.N. instructions to travel to Crimea. After getting in touch with the pro-Russian Crimean government, Serry said in a statement, he had “come to the conclusion that a visit to Crimea today is not possible.”
“In Crimea, I would have conveyed … a message for all to calm the situation down and to refrain from any actions that could further escalate an already-tense environment.”
As Security Council ambassadors moved behind closed doors at midafternoon, officials there said they anticipated the vast majority of the 15-member body would agree to a strong condemnation of Putin’s request, and the Russian parliament’s agreement, to send troops to Crimea.
After Friday’s council meeting, Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin said his government was opposed to any “imposed mediation” over Crimea.
In Brussels, European Union Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton called for an “extraordinary” meeting of the E.U.’s foreign affairs council Monday on Ukraine.
The administration has been trying to coordinate its response with European allies, examining options that include a boycott of the upcoming G8 meeting, scheduled to be held in June in the Russian Black Sea city of Sochi, and a variety of trade and economic measures.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said via Twitter that he had summoned Russia’s ambassador and that he had consulted by telephone with his German counterpart.
Although Ukraine’s interim government called for implementation of a 1994 security pact it signed with the United States, Britain and Russia — and Hague said that Britain supported consultations under the terms of that agreement — U.S. officials gave no indication that any military response was being considered.
In the so-called Budapest Memorandum, under which Ukraine transferred its Soviet-era nuclear weapons to Russia for disposal, signatories pledged to preserve Ukraine’s territorial integrity and to submit any dispute to consultations among them.