Kerry Plans to Visit Ukraine in Show of Support and Warns Russia of Penalties



WASHINGTON — As Western governments scrambled on Sunday to respond to the Russian military advance in Ukraine, Secretary of State John Kerry made plans to visit Kiev on Tuesday in a gesture of support for the new Ukrainian government, a senior American official said.

The announcement came just hours after Mr. Kerry warned that Russia risked eviction from the Group of 8 industrialized nations and that assets of Russian businesses could be frozen if the Kremlin did not reverse its military occupation of Crimea in Ukraine.

Mr. Kerry’s visit is part of the Obama administration strategy to increase the diplomatic and economic pressure on Russia.

So far, however, there is no indication that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has any intention to change course. American officials said on Sunday that Russian troops continued to enter Crimea to fortify the Russian position there.

The Obama administration’s strategy has been to present a united Western front with NATO and avoid casting the dispute as being mainly between Washington and Moscow.

Outlining the American stance, Mr. Kerry warned that if Russia continued its military campaign in Ukraine, Mr. Putin was “not going to have a Sochi G-8,” a reference to the meeting of the industrialized nations that Russia is slated to host in June. “He may not even remain in the G-8 if this continues.”

“There could even be, ultimately, asset freezes, visa bans,” Mr. Kerry added in an appearance on the NBC program “Meet the Press.” “There could be certainly a disruption of any of the normal trade routine. There could be business drawback on investment in the country. The ruble is already going down and feeling the impact of this.”

At the same time, officials said, the Obama administration has been trying to provide Mr. Putin with an “off-ramp” by suggesting that international observers could take the place of Russian troops in Crimea to protect the rights of the Russian-speaking population there.

The other seven industrialized nations in the G-8 jointly condemned Russia’s intervention on Sunday as a “clear violation” of Ukraine’s sovereignty and joined the United States in suspending its preparation for the meeting in Sochi.

But there appeared to be differences among Western nations about how forcefully to respond. When it comes to Russia’s role in the Group of 8, Mr. Kerry’s German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, delivered a different message.

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“The format of the G-8 is actually the only one in which we in the West can speak directly with Russia,” Mr. Steinmeier told the German television network ARD.

The tangible steps the Obama administration has taken so far are very limited. In addition to halting its involvement with preparations for the summit meeting in Sochi, the United States canceled plans for officials to visit Russia next week to discuss a new trade agreement. It also suspended a visit by Russian officials to Washington to discuss energy issues.

NATO has also moved cautiously. At a meeting of NATO ambassadors in Brussels, some nations were initially reluctant about condemning Russia until intelligence briefers explained the scope of the Kremlin’s intervention, according to a Western official.

In the end, NATO issued a strongly worded statement Sunday condemning the intervention as a “breach of international law.” But the alliance has yet to determine if and how to reduce its cooperation with Russia and how to demonstrate its support for Ukraine.

Eric S. Edelman, who served as a senior Pentagon official during the administration of George W. Bush, suggested that one step NATO might take is to repeal its assurance to Moscow, made in 1997, that it would not increase its conventional combat power on the territory of its new Eastern European members.

But reviewing such assurances or considering new military steps is not yet on the alliance’s agenda, Western officials said.

CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

Think Back: Obama’s Cold War

In addressing crises in Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere, President Obama seems to be drawing on the memory of old-time superpower struggles, says Sam Tanenhaus.

Ukraine is the latest issue in a troubled relationship between Washington and Moscow.

After agreeing to co-host the Geneva peace talks on the civil war in Syria, the Russians have helped Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, reverse his fortunes on the battlefield by sending additional arms to Syria, Mr. Kerry has said.

On arms control, the Obama administration has raised concerns that Russia may be violating the 1987 agreement that bans medium-range missiles by flight testing a ground-launched cruise missile, so far to no avail.

Compounding American concern over the Russian intervention in Ukraine, Western officials said, are Kremlin efforts to mask its intentions. Mr. Kerry spoke several times last week with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, who Mr. Kerry said had assured him that the snap military “exercise” Moscow announced had nothing to do with events in Ukraine.

But Russia began moving in reinforcements to the Sevastopol naval base on Thursday and Friday, mostly by sea from Novorossiysk and Anapa, according to a senior Western official, who insisted on not being named because he was discussing intelligence information.

The operation began on Friday, well before Mr. Putin went to the Russian Parliament to seek approval for a military intervention in Ukraine. The initial operation involved thousands of troops, including Spetsnaz special forces, as well as specially trained marine and airborne units.

In a parallel move, the Russians resumed building a border fence in South Ossetia, the breakaway Georgian region, as soon as the Olympic Games in Sochi ended, Georgia’s prime minister said in an interview.

“Putin starts with a major advantage,” R. Nicholas Burns, a former United States ambassador to NATO, said in a conference call organized on Sunday by the Atlantic Council. “He has been very strategic and very decisive, and the Western countries are scrambling to catch up.”

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