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Kerry to visit Kiev as US cuts normal ties with Moscow

Armed servicemen stand near their armoured personnel carrier in the eastern Crimea's port city of Feodosiya on March 2, 2014
Armed servicemen stand near their armoured personnel carrier in the eastern Crimea's port city of Feodosiya on March 2, 2014

US Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Kiev this week in a high-profile show of support for the embattled Ukrainian leadership, as Washington Sunday began Sunday to implement punishing cuts in normal ties with Moscow.

The announcement came after Kerry warned Russia risked being stripped of its coveted seat among the prestigious Group of Eight nations, as well as faced economic turmoil and sanctions, for the "brazen act of aggression" on the Crimean peninsula.

The surprise stop was added onto the top US diplomat's planned trip to Rome and Paris amid growing alarm at fast-moving events in Ukraine, with senior officials saying Russian forces now had complete control of southern Crimea.

Kerry will meet Tuesday in Kiev "with senior representatives of Ukraine's new government, leaders of the Rada and members of civil society," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

He "will reaffirm the United States' strong support for Ukrainian sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity," she added.

A senior administration official told reporters on a conference call that Russian forces were "now in complete operational control of the Crimean peninsula."

A woman photographs  Kiev's Independence square as protests continue on March 2, 2014
A woman photographs Kiev's Independence square as protests continue on March 2, 2014

"There is no question that they are in a occupation commission in Crimea. They are flying in reinforcements and they are settling in," the official said.

After a 90-minute phone call with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Saturday, President Barack Obama spoke a day later with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron and Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.

Washington and its G8 allies were prepared to slap sanctions on Moscow, Kerry said, warning of damage to billions of dollars in trade and investment, as well as possible visa bans and moves by American businesses to quit Russia.

Kerry's blunt comments came as Kiev's interim leaders warned their country was on the brink of disaster, calling up military reservists after the Russian parliament voted to allow Putin to send in troops to its western neighbor.

"If Russia wants to be a G8 country, it needs to behave like a G8 country," Kerry told CBS television's "Face the Nation" program.

Putin "is not going to have a Sochi G8, he may not even remain in the G8 if this continues. He may find himself with asset freezes on Russian business, American business may pull back, there may be a further tumble of the ruble," Kerry warned on NBC's "Meet the Press."

- Military option 'last thing' anyone wants-

The US, Britain and France have already pulled out of preparatory meetings for the G8, and, along with Washington and Canada, have threatened to boycott the June summit.

"Russia's actions are incompatible with the basic underlying principles that allowed us to bring them into the G8 in the first place," the senior administration official told reporters, asking not to be named.

Some economic talks have already been cancelled, as well as a visit by a Russian delegation to Washington to discuss energy.

Pigeons fly while people attend a rally against Russia on Kiev's Independence square on March 2, 2014
Pigeons fly while people attend a rally against Russia on Kiev's Independence square on March 2, 2014

And a major military event due to be held soon would also likely be shelved.

NATO called Sunday for the dispatch of international observers to Ukraine and for Russia to pull back its forces, while also seeking talks between Moscow and the 28-nation alliance.

US officials expressed hope to get international monitors and observers into flashpoint areas.

But Kerry steered clear of warning of any US military action as pro-Moscow gunmen controlled swathes of Ukraine's southern Black Sea peninsula.

"The last thing anybody wants is a military option in this kind of situation. We want a peaceful resolution through the normal processes of international relations," he said.

Kerry again urged Putin to de-escalate tensions, saying "Russia and President Putin are aligning themselves with this kleptocracy" of ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych.

"I think this is an enormous mistake for Russia," he added.

Kerry insisted everything was "on the table," including US economic sanctions, and urged Congress to work with the administration.

"All options are on the table. There's no question but that Russia needs to understand this is serious," he told ABC's "This Week."

And he warned on "Face the Nation" that "the G8 plus some others... are prepared to go to the hilt in order to isolate Russia with respect to this invasion."

"They're prepared to put sanctions in place, they're prepared to isolate Russia economically, the ruble is already going down."

Russia's economic growth slowed to 1.3 percent in 2013, down from 3.4 percent the year before, and the ruble has lost more than eight percent against the euro since the start of the year.

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