Washington, Feb. 23 (Reuters): The US said today that it would be a “grave mistake” for Russia to send military forces into Ukraine after a popular uprising toppled its Moscow-backed President, Viktor Yanukovych.
“That would be a grave mistake. It’s not in the interests of Ukraine or of Russia or of Europe or the US to see a country split. It’s in nobody’s interest to see violence return and the situation escalate,” President Barack Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice said in reply to a question.
“There is not an inherent contradiction... between a Ukraine that has longstanding historic and cultural ties to Russia and a modern Ukraine that wants to integrate more closely with Europe. This need not be mutually exclusive,” Rice said.
The comments came against the backdrop of concerns whether Ukraine’s mostly Russian-speaking industrial east and Black Sea coast would break away.
Russia, the clear loser of the latest round of this geopolitical tug of war, has a major naval base at Sebastopol in the Ukrainian province of Crimea. It could also tip Ukraine into default by calling in the billions Kiev owes Moscow and its gas monopoly Gazprom.
In previous crises, it has cut off gas supplies to Ukraine, severely reducing flows to central and west European countries that rely on pipelines running through the country.
President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have been working the telephones to Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin has alternated between silence and comments disputing the legitimacy of Yanukovych’s ouster.