WILLIAM Hague has urged Russia to back off from its intervention in Crimea as stock markets crashed on fears of economic retaliation by the West.
The Foreign Secretary said Moscow should be in no doubt that it faced “significant costs” for “taking control” of the Ukrainian region.
The comments came as Mr Hague began a series of meetings in Kiev and global diplomatic pressure ratcheted up on Russia.
EU leaders are holding intensive discussions on their response, while the G7 group of countries have condemned Russia’s “clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”.
Mr Hague told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme there is a “constant risk” of a “flashpoint” in Crimea which could send the situation spiralling out of control.
He praised the Ukraine government for showing restraint despite the “provocation”, and said he was “very concerned” about action by Russia in other parts of the country.
“If Russia continues on this course we have to be clear this is not an acceptable way to conduct international relations. That is something that Russia has to recognise... There will certainly be significant costs,” Mr Hague said.
“There are things that we can do about it and must do about it.”
Diplomatic response ‘already happening’
Mr Hague said the diplomatic response was already happening, and signalled that economic sanctions were on the table.
“The world cannot just allow this to happen,” he said.
He added: “The urgent thing is to get Russia and Ukraine to be in direct communication with each other.”
The Moscow stock exchange fell about 10 per cent in the first hour of trading this morning, before recovering slightly. The rouble fell to record lows against both the euro and the dollar.
Mr Hague said there was “no justification” for the action in Crimea, where he said Russia had “in effect taken control”.
“Clearly we are very concerned about any possibility of a further move by Russia in other parts of Ukraine,” he said.
“There are Ukrainian forces as well as Russian forces in Ukraine. There is a constant risk of miscalculation, of a flashpoint arising there (the Crimea) or in other parts of Ukraine.”
Call to withdraw troops to barracks
He called on Russia to withdraw its troops to their barracks in Ukraine.
“Russia is entitled under its arrangements with Ukraine and the Black Sea fleet basing arrangements to have troops and naval forces in Crimea,” he said.
“But when they are outside their bases, they are meant to operate with the agreement of the Ukrainian authorities.
“Russia needs to return to that situation.”
The Foreign Secretary described the situation as “certainly the biggest crisis in Europe in the 21st century”.
He dismissed suggestions that the Iraq war undermined the moral authority of the West to criticise Russia.
Earlier, Mr Hague walked to Independence Square in Kiev, site of mass protests against ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, before speaking to people manning the barricades and laying flowers, joining growing floral tributes to those who have died in the protests.
He is due to meet the acting president and prime minister of the country later today.
The G7 has suspended preparations for June’s G8 summit in Sochi following the escalation of military action and condemned Russia’s “clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”.
Cameron ‘gravely concerned’
David Cameron “remains gravely concerned” about the situation and, in a conversation with US president Barack Obama last night, agreed on the “urgent need for de-escalation” and for Russia to engage in a direct dialogue with Ukraine.
The Earl of Wessex pulled out of the Winter Paralympics on the advice of the Government in light of Russia’s decision to take military action in Ukraine.
Edward, who is patron of the British Paralympic Association, was due to attend the Sochi Games for three days this week but has cancelled, Buckingham Palace said last night.
Ministers will also boycott the Games, Downing Street said, but the Prime Minister remains “fully supportive of our Paralympic athletes’ participation at Sochi”.
Diplomatic pressure on Moscow is mounting as Ukraine teeters on the brink of disaster following Russian president Vladimir Putin’s decision to deploy troops to the former Soviet state.
Ukraine has put its military on high alert and appealed for international help to avoid what it fears is a possible wider invasion by Russia.
Russian forces have captured the Crimean Peninsula and there are concerns that it might seek to seize control of other parts of the country.
Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said there was no reason for Russia to invade and warned that “we are on the brink of disaster”.
The G7 - made up of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US - along with the president of the European Council and president of the European Commission, said Russia’s actions in Ukraine “contravene” the principles and values of both the G7 and G8.
In a statement today, they condemned Russia’s “clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine” and called on Moscow to “address any ongoing security or human rights concerns that it has with Ukraine through direct negotiations”, offering to facilitate talks.
They said: “As such, we have decided for the time being to suspend our participation in activities associated with the preparation of the scheduled G8 Summit in Sochi in June, until the environment comes back where the G8 is able to have meaningful discussion.”