(CNSNews.com) – Sending Secretary of State John Kerry to negotiate with his Russian counterpart in a failed bid to avert a Moscow-backed referendum in Crimea was “like sending a cupcake to negotiate with a steak knife,” former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton said on Sunday.
Speaking as the referendum was underway, Bolton told Fox News that both the Obama administration and the European Union (E.U.) were demonstrating weakness in their handling of the Ukraine crisis.
“We sent Secretary of State John Kerry to London to negotiate with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – that’s like sending a cupcake to negotiate with a steak knife,” he said.
Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said there was “a real failure of leadership” in the West.
“We’ve ignored the security issues that are inherent in Ukraine not being part of NATO after the Europeans rejected it in 2008, so after five years of failing to even think about this issue we’re now seeing the consequences,” he said.
The U.S. in 2008 backed putting both Ukraine and Georgia on a formal path to NATO membership, but objections by E.U. countries leery about Russia’s strong objections meant the required consensus was not achieved, and the decision was put off.
Now that Ukraine’s Crimea region – effectively under Russian military control – has voted to join Russia the willingness of the West to confront President Vladimir Putin will again be put to the test, beginning Monday.
For weeks the Obama administration and E.U. leaders have been talking about “costs” and “consequences” for Russia’s military intervention, and the White House said Sunday that President Obama in a phone conversation with Putin had done so again.
“[Obama] emphasized that Russia’s actions were in violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and that, in coordination with our European partners, we are prepared to impose additional costs on Russia for its actions,” it said.
So far actual punitive measures have been mild. The State Department has instituted a visa ban on a group of undisclosed “officials or other persons who have been complicit in or responsible for supporting actions which threaten the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine.”
Separately, Obama has issued an executive order creating the authority for sanctions against such individuals or entities – but no targets have yet been named.
Even after Kerry’s last-ditch talks with Lavrov on Saturday failed to avert the referendum, Kerry seemed reluctant to talk about sanctions.
Asked during a press conference after the talks whether U.S. and E.U. sanctions would now be a fait accompli on Monday, he agreed that Obama and the E.U. “have said if the referendum takes place, there will be some sanctions” – but then added immediately, “There’ll be some response, put it that way.”
Kerry referred several times during the press availability to Russia’s “legitimate concerns” and “legitimate interests” in Ukraine.
“We hope President Putin will recognize that none of what we’re saying is meant as a threat. It’s not meant as a – in a personal way,” he said.
Kerry also held out the hope that Putin’s pledge to honor the outcome of the referendum did not necessarily mean he would move to annex Crimea.
“The reality is that President Putin’s statement that he will respect the vote offers him many options as to how he chooses to respect the vote,” he said.
Kerry said that Putin could “respect the vote” by ensuring that Crimea’s autonomy is increased and its people’s needs respected, “without necessarily having to make a decision to annex.”
E.U. foreign ministers meeting on Monday will decide on what steps to take in response to the referendum, with travel bans and asset freezes on some officials under active consideration.
Meanwhile in Crimea, the separatists are wasting little time. Local lawmakers were scheduled to meet on Monday morning (around 4 AM eastern U.S. time) to begin the “political process of reunification with Russia,” Voice of Russia reported. From there a delegation planned to visit Russia to take the matter forward
It said the final decision on the Russian side would rest with both houses of parliament and with Putin.
The leader of the third-largest party in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, Sergei Mironov, predicted lawmakers would quickly pass the necessary measures on Crimea’s accession to the Russian Federation.
State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin told Russian television the Crimea referendum was a historic development after years of Russia “losing” people – a reference to the breakup of the Soviet Union and consequent loss of Russian minorities in former Soviet states.
“Here at last we're getting our compatriots back,” Naryshkin said. “That’s a historic moment for Russia.”