Biden: US will "never recognize Russian illegal occupation of Crimea"

Vice President Joe Biden demanded action from Russia to back up their commitment to ease tensions in eastern Ukraine, telling Vladimir Putin to “stop supporting men hiding behind masks.” Biden, speaking at a joint press conference with acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, also insisted that the US would never recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and warned that more sanctions are on their way unless Putin changes course:

As the crisis in Ukraine shows no signs of easing, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden promised support for Ukraine and stressed that the United States won’t recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

“Ukraine is and must remain one country,” he said in Kiev on Tuesday at a press conference with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Biden also met with acting President Oleksandr Turchynov during his trip to Ukraine.

“No nation has the right to simply grab land from another nation,” Biden said. “We will never recognize Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea.”

Biden called on Russia to “stop supporting men hiding behind masks and unmarked uniforms sowing unrest in eastern Ukraine.” He warned of additional sanctions if such “provocative behavior” does not end.

So far, Putin’s not getting the message, and neither are the so-called “pro-Russian separatists.” Another police station fell in the east overnight:

Residents told CNN that armed militants seized the police station in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, late Monday. The station had been stormed on April 12 before being handed back to local officials two days later.

Amateur video from the scene shows masked, armed men escorting the local police chief to a car after seizing the building.

The video, in addition to the photos released by Ukrainian officials, seemed to show that at least some forces in Ukraine show no sign of backing down.

No kidding. The West has amped up its rhetoric and its diplomatic posturing, which is why Biden went to Kyiv instead of John Kerry. The message itself hit all the right notes. Biden said exactly what he needed to say. The only problem is that the West has a credibility problem in Moscow. The counter-efforts to Putin’s aggression have been too slow and too incremental. Ukraine may be happy to have Biden deliver this speech on their behalf, but they have to wonder when the US will apply sanctions to just a few of Putin’s cronies, who can easily maneuver around them. And that’s even more true of Europe than of the US.

Biden says the US won’t recognize Crimea as Russian. Ukrainians who live there are having the same problem, the New York Times’ Neil Farquhar reports:

One month after the lightning annexation, residents of this Black Sea peninsula find themselves living not so much in a different state, Russia, as in a state of perpetual confusion. Declaring the change, they are finding, was far easier than actually carrying it out.

The chaotic transition comes amid evolving tensions in nearby eastern Ukraine, where the possible outcomes include a Crimea-annexation replay.

In Crimea now, few institutions function normally. Most banks are closed. So are land registration offices. Court cases have been postponed indefinitely. Food imports are haphazard. Some foreign companies, like McDonald’s, have shut down.

Other changes are more sinister. “Self-defense units,” with no obvious official mandate, swoop down at train stations and other entry points for sudden inspections. Drug addicts, political activists, gays and even Ukrainian priests — all censured by either the government or the Russian Orthodox Church — are among the most obvious groups fearing life under a far less tolerant government.

In fact, switching countries has brought disarray to virtually all aspects of life. Crimeans find themselves needing new things every day — driver’s licenses and license plates, insurance and prescriptions, passports and school curriculums. The Russians who have flooded in seeking land deals and other opportunities have been equally frustrated by the logistical and bureaucratic roadblocks.

Give it a couple of more months, and no one will recognize the place. However, Russians are now flooding into the peninsula to lecture the locals on how to become Russian:

“Nonsense!” said Yelena Yurchenko, the minister for tourism and resorts and the daughter of a Soviet admiral who retired in Crimea. These “are small issues that can be resolved as they appear,” she said, adding, “It might result in certain tensions for the lazy people who do not want to make progress.”

Legions of Russian officials have descended on Crimea to teach the local people how to become Russian. In tourism alone, Ms. Yurchenko said, Crimea needed advice about Russian law, marketing, health care and news media.

If all this is true, then exactly how credible was that plebiscite Russia conducted under military occupation, anyway?

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