Ukraine: Cameron threatens Russia with EU sanctions

Soldiers, believed to be Russian, near Sevastopol yesterday. Picture: Reuters
Soldiers, believed to be Russian, near Sevastopol yesterday. Picture: Reuters
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International powers will meet in London today to draw up a list of Russians who could face asset freezes and travel bans if Moscow fails to de-escalate the crisis over Ukraine, Prime Minister David Cameron has told MPs.

In a statement to the House of Commons on last week’s emergency European summit on the Ukraine crisis, Mr Cameron acknowledged yesterday that sanctions against Russia could have consequences for the UK and its European Union partners.

But he warned: “Britain’s own security and prosperity would be at risk if we allow a situation where countries can just flout international rules without incurring consequences.”

The Prime Minister met German chancellor Angela Merkel in Hanover on Sunday to discuss the crisis, which has seen troops loyal to Moscow occupying Crimea, after a revolution ousted president Viktor Yanukovich.

Mr Cameron and Mrs Merkel issued a warning of “further consequences” if Moscow attempts to legitimise any attempt by Crimea to break away from Ukraine, following a referendum scheduled for Sunday.

The Prime Minister and German chancellor restated their view that the proposed vote on whether the southern Ukrainian peninsula should join the Russian Federation would be illegal.

Last Thursday’s emergency summit in Brussels agreed a three-stage process by which the EU will respond to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, Mr Cameron told MPs.

As a first response, preparations for the G8 summit in the Russian resort of Sochi were suspended; ministers and members of the Royal Family cancelled planned trips to the Winter Paralympics; work on a more liberal EU visa regime for Russians was halted, and the UK began a review of all government business and arms export licences.

If Russia fails to come to the negotiating table with the government of Ukraine within days in a new contact group, the EU is ready to implement a second phase of action, including asset freezes and travel bans on key figures in Russian president Vladimir Putin’s administration, said Mr Cameron.

“We are working closely with our American, European and other international partners to prepare a list of names, and these sanctions, plus the measures already agreed against Yanukovich and his circle, will be the focus of a meeting in London tomorrow with key international partners,” the Prime Minister told MPs. And if Russia took “further unacceptable steps” to destabilise Ukraine, the European Council agreed there would be “additional and far-reaching consequences” .

Mr Cameron said: “Such sanctions would have consequences for EU states, including Britain. But as I argued at the meeting, the costs of not standing up to aggression are far greater.”

Denouncing recent events in Ukraine as “completely indefensible”, the Prime Minister said: “Its territorial integrity has been violated, and the aspirations of its people to chart their own future are being frustrated.”

But Mr Cameron added: “There is still an opportunity for Russia to resolve this situation diplomatically.

“They should engage in direct talks with the Ukrainians, return Russian troops to their bases in Crimea, withdraw their support for this illegal and unconstitutional referendum in Crimea, and work with the rest of the international community to support free and fair elections in Ukraine in May.

“In Europe we have spent the last 70 years working to keep the peace and we know from history that turning a blind eye when nations are trampled over stores up greater problems for the longer term.”