Obama: Russia's military now controls Crimea

The Euromaidan protests began late last year, as a peaceful protest movement. Here, thousands of supporters gather in Independence Square in capital Kiev, demanding closer ties to the European Union. President Viktor Yanukovych had suspended talks on an EU-integration deal, instead seeking closer ties with Russia.
The Euromaidan protests began late last year, as a peaceful protest movement. Here, thousands of supporters gather in Independence Square in capital Kiev, demanding closer ties to the European Union. President Viktor Yanukovych had suspended talks on an EU-integration deal, instead seeking closer ties with Russia.
Ukraine is an extremely young country, carved out of the Soviet Union in 1990. The population of 44.5 million are deeply divided on some issues, with the eastern half of the country generally supporting closer ties to Russia and the western side preferring EU-integration. Many in the eastern section of the country speak Russian and see themselves as part of Russia - somewhat understandably since an independent Ukraine is only 24 years old.
Ukraine is an extremely young country, carved out of the Soviet Union in 1990. The population of 44.5 million are deeply divided on some issues, with the eastern half of the country generally supporting closer ties to Russia and the western side preferring EU-integration. Many in the eastern section of the country speak Russian and see themselves as part of Russia - somewhat understandably since an independent Ukraine is only 24 years old.
Tensions rose throughout 2013. Here, pamphlets showing jailed former Ukrainian Prime Minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko are scattered onto the Ukrainian Parliament in late November last year.
Tensions rose throughout 2013. Here, pamphlets showing jailed former Ukrainian Prime Minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko are scattered onto the Ukrainian Parliament in late November last year.
Anti-protest laws backfired on the Government, bringing out more and more demonstrators.
Anti-protest laws backfired on the Government, bringing out more and more demonstrators.
Anti-protest laws backfired on the Government, bringing out more and more demonstrators.
Anti-protest laws backfired on the Government, bringing out more and more demonstrators.
Anti-protest laws backfired on the Government, bringing out more and more demonstrators.
Anti-protest laws backfired on the Government, bringing out more and more demonstrators.
Anti-protest laws backfired on the Government, bringing out more and more demonstrators.
Anti-protest laws backfired on the Government, bringing out more and more demonstrators.
Three protesters died on January 22 during clashes.
Three protesters died on January 22 during clashes.
Following the resignation of the prime minister and some concessions, early February was relatively calm.
Following the resignation of the prime minister and some concessions, early February was relatively calm.
Here, a protestor aims a pneumatic gun at riot police.
Here, a protestor aims a pneumatic gun at riot police.
Violence erupted again on February 18, killing at least 26.
Violence erupted again on February 18, killing at least 26.
Kiev's Independence Square remained the centre of unrest.
Kiev's Independence Square remained the centre of unrest.
Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 16. The Sochi Olympics were intended as a show of Russian development, but the crisis diverted international media attention. Many experts agree that Putin sees a revolution in Ukraine as a huge threat, given the country's close ties to Russia - if it can happen in Kiev, can it happen in Moscow?
Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 16. The Sochi Olympics were intended as a show of Russian development, but the crisis diverted international media attention. Many experts agree that Putin sees a revolution in Ukraine as a huge threat, given the country's close ties to Russia - if it can happen in Kiev, can it happen in Moscow?
A truce was announced but soon failed. At least 77 died between February 19 and 21.
A truce was announced but soon failed. At least 77 died between February 19 and 21.
A wounded man in the streets of Kiev.
A wounded man in the streets of Kiev.
A truce was announced but soon failed. At least 77 died between February 19 and 21.
A truce was announced but soon failed. At least 77 died between February 19 and 21.
A truce was announced but soon failed. At least 77 died between February 19 and 21.
A truce was announced but soon failed. At least 77 died between February 19 and 21.
A truce was announced but soon failed. At least 77 died between February 19 and 21.
A truce was announced but soon failed. At least 77 died between February 19 and 21.
Government snipers shoot at protesters.
Government snipers shoot at protesters.
Government snipers shoot at protesters.
Government snipers shoot at protesters.
On the 21st of February, protesters take control of Kiev, and Yanukovych flees.
On the 21st of February, protesters take control of Kiev, and Yanukovych flees.
On the 22nd, they storm the President Yanukovych's residence. Here, a protester plays golf at his grounds.
On the 22nd, they storm the President Yanukovych's residence. Here, a protester plays golf at his grounds.
On the 24th of February, Ukraine's interim goverment drew up a warrant for Yanukovych's arrest. Here, a guard stands outside parliament.
On the 24th of February, Ukraine's interim goverment drew up a warrant for Yanukovych's arrest. Here, a guard stands outside parliament.
Leaders of the protest movement propose Arseniy Yatsenyuk, pictured with the microphone, as the new prime minister.
Leaders of the protest movement propose Arseniy Yatsenyuk, pictured with the microphone, as the new prime minister.
A pro-Russian rally in the east of Ukraine, in early March.
A pro-Russian rally in the east of Ukraine, in early March.
A pro-Russian rally in the east of Ukraine, in early March.
A pro-Russian rally in the east of Ukraine, in early March.
On February 27, masked gunmen seize control of several government buildings and two airports in Crimea, an eastern region of Ukraine that holds Russian military bases.
On February 27, masked gunmen seize control of several government buildings and two airports in Crimea, an eastern region of Ukraine that holds Russian military bases.
The soldiers wear unmarked uniforms, but most assume that they are Russian.
The soldiers wear unmarked uniforms, but most assume that they are Russian.
On March 1, Russian troops take over Crimea without firing a single shot.
On March 1, Russian troops take over Crimea without firing a single shot.
On March 5, US Secretary of State John Kerry, front right, meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, front left, in an attempt to solve the crisis. Exiled President Yanukovych has been granted Asylum by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia has pushed back against demands from the West that their forces in Ukraine's Crimea region stand down, but talks are ongoing. The crisis continues...
On March 5, US Secretary of State John Kerry, front right, meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, front left, in an attempt to solve the crisis. Exiled President Yanukovych has been granted Asylum by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia has pushed back against demands from the West that their forces in Ukraine's Crimea region stand down, but talks are ongoing. The crisis continues...

US President Barack Obama has acknowledged for the first time that Russia is unlikely to surrender control of the strategically important peninsula it annexed from Ukraine, conceding that Western condemnations have had little effect on Vladimir Putin.

Obama insisted the international community would never recognise Russia's takeover of Crimea. But he and European leaders, gathering in the Netherlands for a two-day nuclear summit, said a military response against Moscow was unlikely. The leaders focused much of their attention on keeping Russia from expanding elsewhere in Ukraine - even if that means enacting broad sanctions that have negative implications for their own economies.

"Some particular sanctions would hurt some countries more than others," Obama said during a joint news conference with the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte. "But all of us recognise that we have to stand up for a core principle that lies at the heart of the international order."

The president spoke a day after the US and its partners in the Group of Seven economic forum declared that they were indefinitely suspending cooperation with Russia, which often joins with the G-7 nations to form the Group of Eight. The leaders also said they were prepared to impose sanctions on key sectors of the Russian economy, including its energy and defence industries.

Russia's brazen incursion into Ukraine has become a fierce challenge to Obama's leadership on the world stage. He arrived in the Netherlands, the first stop on a week-long trip abroad, facing withering criticism from Republicans who have charged that the president underestimated Putin or misjudged the Russian leader's intentions.

Among those critics is Obama's former presidential rival Mitt Romney. The GOP politician declared during the 2012 campaign that Russia was America's top geopolitical foe - an assertion Obama dismissed as a relic of Cold War-era thinking.

Obama took aim at Romney's assertion again Tuesday, using the opportunity to derisively cast Russia as little more than a "regional power" that threatens its allies, but not the US The pointed comment appeared to take aim at what Western officials see as Putin's insecurity over Russia's standing in the world.

"Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbours - not out of strength, but out of weakness," Obama said. Still, he added that "it would be dishonest to suggest there is a simple solution to what has already taken place in Crimea," where Russian troops are in control.

In a sign of how difficult it would be to roll back Russia's advances, Ukrainian soldiers in Crimea piled onto buses and began their journey to Ukrainian territory on Tuesday following a withdrawal order from the central government in Kiev. A former comrade saluted them from outside a base overrun by Russian forces.

While Putin did not attend the long-planned Nuclear Security Summit, his provocative actions in Ukraine dominated the two days of talks in The Hague. Western nations have used their long-planned meetings here to project a united front in their dispute with the West, banking that diplomatic and political isolation might prevent Putin from launching further incursions into eastern and southern Ukraine.

Russia has amassed thousands of troops on its border near those regions, raising anxieties in Washington, as well as in other former Soviet territories. Obama sought to reassure some of those nations that Nato would come to the defence of any member of the 28-nation alliance.

"When it comes to a potential military response, that is defined by Nato membership," he said. "That's what Nato's about."

The West's preferred method for preventing an escalation of the conflict continued to be economic sanctions, both on individuals close to Putin and the Russian economy.

Obama appeared to have made progress in convincing European leaders that the costs of implementing such sanctions outweighed the risks to their own economies. Europe has deep economic ties with Russia and the continent's leaders have worried that sanctions on Moscow could boomerang and hurt their own economies.

During his news conference with Obama, Rutte said that while leaders could not completely mitigate the impact of the sanctions, "we will make sure that we will design these sanctions in such a way that they will have maximum impact on the Russian economy."

Still, it remained unclear whether the US and Europe would actually go through with broader economic sanctions if Russia does escalate the crisis.

Obama and European leaders have also been discussing ways to boost funding for Ukraine. The country's fledgling government is under significant financial strain following a shake-up that saw Ukraine's Russian-backed president flee amid popular protests.

In Washington, Senate Democrats signaled a possible retreat over the biggest sticking point blocking congressional passage of legislation clearly the way for an aid package. Up to now, the Senate and House have been at odds over a provision related to the International Monetary Fund. But legislative aides told The Associated Press that Democrats would weigh dropping language related to the IMF in the interests of securing passage of a bill.

The president also planned to discuss funding for Ukraine during meetings Wednesday with European Union leaders in Brussels, where he arrived late Tuesday.

Later Obama met with Prince Mohamed bin Zayed, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, to address Arab anxieties over the Syrian civil war and US nuclear talks with Iran. He also met jointly with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye, bringing together two US Asian allies who have been quarrelling over rekindled memories of Japan's aggression in World War II.

AP