THE US secretary of state said yesterday that America and its allies are ready to step up measures to “isolate Russia politically, diplomatically and economically” unless Moscow orders its troops in Crimea back to their barracks.
During a visit to Kiev, John Kerry praised the “restraint” of Ukraine’s fledgling government in the face of blatant military provocation by Russia.
After talks with Ukraine’s interim president Olexander Turchynov and prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Mr Kerry said: “I think that it is clear that Russia has been working hard to create a pretext for being able to invade further. Russia has talked about Russian-speaking minority citizens who are under siege. They’re not. It is not appropriate to invade a country and dictate what you want to achieve at the end of the barrel of a gun. It is not 21st-century behaviour.”
Announcing details of a $1 billion (£600 million) emergency aid package for the new government, Mr Kerry told Ukrainians: “We are going to do our best to help you. We are going to try very hard.”
The secretary of state’s remarks came as US officials accused Russia of an “act of aggression” over its reported deployment of up to 16,000 troops in the Crimean peninsula. They also reiterated the threat of unspecified economic sanctions against Russia, warning it was something the US could implement “as soon as this week”.
President Barack Obama said Russian president Vladimir Putin’s assertion that no troops had been mobilised was “not fooling anyone”, and that Russia had no right to intervene in Crimea.
Earlier, Mr Putin accused the West of encouraging an “anti-constitutional coup” in Ukraine and driving the country into anarchy.
He insisted that Russia had a right to protect its citizens in the former Soviet republic and warned that a punitive response from the international community would backfire, causing “mutual harm” to Russia and its critics.
Last night, Nato general-secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that Russia “continues to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and continues to violate its international commitments”, despite international condemnation.
“These developments present serious implications for the security and stability of the Euro-Atlantic area,” he said, adding that Nato allies “stand together in the spirit of strong solidarity in this grave crisis”.
As international pressure on Russia grew yesterday, Mr Putin again insisted that it was “absolutely legitimate” for Moscow to use “all available means” to protect the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine.
“Regarding the deployment of troops, the use of armed forces, so far, there is no need for it, but the possibility remains,” said Mr Putin shortly after he ordered 150,000 Russian soldiers on a military exercise near the Ukrainian border to return to their permanent bases.
Addressing MPs yesterday, Foreign Secretary William Hague said Mr Putin’s claims that the Russian government is acting in response to an appeal for help from Ukraine’s ousted president Viktor Yanukovich – and the country’s Russian-national population – were “baseless”.
Mr Hague said there was “a grave risk of escalation or miscalculation and a threat to hard-won peace and security in Europe”.
He commended the authorities in Kiev for their “refusal to be provoked” and urged them to maintain this position.
Mr Hague made clear he had no doubt that the troops in Crimea were acting on Moscow’s orders, despite Mr Putin’s insistence that they were “local self-defence units”.
The Foreign Secretary insisted that all of Britain’s options “remain open”, telling MPs that an inadvertently revealed document which appeared to rule out trade sanctions was “not necessarily a guide to the decisions that will be made by Her Majesty’s government”.
Mr Hague urged Russian ministers to meet him today in Paris at a hastily arranged conference to discuss the 1994 Budapest memorandum, under which international powers, including Russia, gave assurances on the security and territorial integrity of Ukraine as it gave up its nuclear weapons.
He called on Moscow to agree to the deployment of international monitors from the UN and Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to Ukraine.
Prime Minister David Cameron said his message to the people of Ukraine was that “we back your ability to choose your own future”.
The Prime Minister added: “We are sending a very clear message to the government in Russia that what has happened is unacceptable. Failing to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine – that is not an acceptable way to behave and we have said very clearly there will be costs and consequences diplomatically, politically and economically, from the decisions that have been taken.
“And we need to send an even more clear message that if there are further incursions into the Ukraine territorial integrity and sovereignty, then further steps would have to be taken.”
Meanwhile, in Crimea tensions remained high. Troops loyal to Moscow were reported to have fired shots to warn off protesting Ukrainian soldiers who were singing the national anthem and demanding access to their base.
Russian forces have taken over swathes of the peninsula in the south-east of the country, surrounding its naval base, military facilities and border posts.
THE Russian military have test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile, it said last night.
A Topol RS-12M missile was launched from Russia’s Kapustin Yar test range near the Caspian Sea to the Sary Shagan range in Kazakhstan.
However, the US said it was given advance notice of the missile launch, as required by bilateral arms treaties.
“We have been notified of this test earlier this week, it’s not unexpected,” a US defence official said.
Fired just after 6pm, the nuclear-capable missile reached its target successfully, the defence ministry in Moscow said.
The aim of the launch, officials said, was to test “a promising intercontinental ballistic missile payload”.