International pressure rises as Russia builds up forces near Crimea
Ukraine has ordered a military mobilization and put its forces on combat alert; Kerry threatens Russia with sanctions in wake of siege; Russia: Kerry's remarks contain 'unacceptable' threats.
International pressure on Ukraine and Russia was rising Monday, as military tensions intensified in the Crimea region.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Monday that recent remarks by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry contained threats against Russia, and were "unacceptable." Kerry on Sunday condemned what he called Russia's "incredible act of aggression" in Ukraine after Russian forces took control of the Crimea and parliament gave President Vladimir Putin consent to send in the military.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, meanwhile, said that he would ask Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Russia to refrain from any acts or rhetoric that would further escalate the crisis in Ukraine and instead seek dialogue with authorities in Kiev.
Ban said that his deputy Jan Eliasson, who had just arrived in Kiev, would "convey the same message to Ukrainian authorities."
"It is now of utmost importance to restore calm and to de-escalate tensions immediately through dialogue," Ban told a news conference in Geneva shortly before holding talks with Lavrov. "I will urge that the Russian Federation refrain from any acts and rhetoric that could further escalate the situation and instead to engage constructively and through peaceful means with Ukraine."
Germany, meanwhile, has proposed a "contact group" proposed to work on resolving the Ukraine crisis would open channels of communication between Moscow and Ukraine's new government which so far have been limited to just one phone call.
"The contact group is important because we need not only a dialogue with Russia but also a dialogue between Ukraine and Russia," said a German foreign office spokeswoman said on Monday.
"There are no direct channels and therefore the contact group is important to enable trust-building measures between both governments."
Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said that when the chancellor raised the idea during a phone call with Putin on Sunday, the president was receptive. Such a group could be composed of states and international organizations, Berlin said.
Meanwhile, in a telephone conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama on Sunday, Merkel sounded a critical note on Putin, telling the American leader that his Russian counterpart was "in another world."
Russia builds up forces near Crimea
Ukrainian border guards on Monday reported a build-up of armored vehicles on the Russian side of a narrow sea channel dividing Russia and the Ukrainian region of Crimea.
A border guard spokesman also said Russian ships had been moving in and around the port city of Sevastopol, where the Russian Black Sea Fleet has a base, and that Russian forces had blocked mobile telephone services in some areas.
The build-up of Russian armor was near a ferry port on the Russian side of the Kerch Channel opposite the Ukrainian city of Kerch, a border guard spokesman said.
"There are armored vehicles on the other side of the strait. We can't predict whether or not they will put any vehicles on the ferry," the spokesman said by telephone."
The border guard spokesman did not say how many armored vehicles had gathered in Russian territory, opposite the city of Kerch on the Ukrainian side of the strait. The Kerch Strait also connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
There was no immediate comment from the Russian Defense Ministry.
Russian forces have taken control of Crimea, which has an ethnic Russian majority, and Ukraine has ordered a military mobilization as well as putting its forces on combat alert.
Russia's upper house of parliament has authorized President Vladimir Putin to deploy troops in Ukraine to defend Russian speakers in Ukraine who are said by Moscow to be under threat.
Kerry will travel to Kiev on Tuesday to stress American political and economic support after Russian forces' bloodless seizure of Ukraine's Crimea region, a senior U.S. official said on Sunday.
Kerry has threatened a range of economic sanctions against Russia if it did not roll back its takeover of the peninsula.
"You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext," the secretary said in an interview on CBS News.
Calling Russia's move ''an incredible act of aggression,'' Kerry urged Putin to seek diplomatic solutions to his concerns in Ukraine. While stating the U.S. has no interest in 'returning to the Cold War, the secretary issued repeated threats of "repercussions" if Russia didn't lay off Crimea and Ukraine. "American businesses may well want to start thinking twice whether they want to do business with a country that behaves like this," he said.
Kerry urged Putin to seek diplomatic solutions to his concerns in Ukraine, saying, "We don't want to return to the Cold War." Still, the secretary issued repeated threats of "repercussions" if Russia didn't lay off Crimea and Ukraine. "American businesses may well want to start thinking twice whether they want to do business with a country that behaves like this," he said.
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