Ukraine: US threatens Russia with isolation

The Crimea region is a key flashpoint. Picture: AP
The Crimea region is a key flashpoint. Picture: AP
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GLOBAL powers are ready to “go to the hilt” to isolate Russia economically, US secretary of state John Kerry warned last night, as tensions between East and West over Ukraine reached a level not seen since the Cold War.

Russians refuse to back down - with analysis by Matthew Day

Foreign Secretary William Hague joined the US and France in announcing yesterday that the UK will boycott talks ahead of the G8 summit in Sochi, whilst David Cameron said UK ministers would not attend the city’s Winter Paralympics in response to Russian aggression.

In a frantic day of diplomatic activity, the US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power has called for international monitors to be sent to the country to observe events on the ground, whilst Nato secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged “Russia to de-escalate tensions”. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon called Russian president Vladimir Putin to engage in dialogue “urgently”.

Earlier, US president Barack Obama had a 45-minute telephone call with Mr Putin to urge him to withdraw his forces in ­Crimea.

Ukraine, meanwhile, called up reservist troops and its soldiers went face-to-face with their Russian counterparts who have surrounded a military base in Crimea.

Prime minister Arseny Yatseniuk said the country “stood on the brink of disaster” after Russia took control of the peninsula.

Last night, it emerged that the head of Ukraine’s navy defected, to back Crimea’s unrecognised pro-Russian leader.

Mr Kerry offered the strongest

warning to Russia so far, saying a “broad array of options” would be available to nations who are part of the G8 if Russia did not step back. He added: “They’re prepared to put sanctions in place, they’re prepared to isolate Russia economically, the rouble is already going down. Russia has major economic challenges.”

Visa bans, asset freezes, trade isolation and investment changes were possible sanctions, he said.

Mr Kerry added: “American businesses may well want to start thinking twice about whether they want to do business with a country that behaves like this. There are very serious repercussions that can flow out of this. There are a broad array of options that are available, not just to the United States but to our allies.”

Ukraine has already endured months of protest and more than 80 deaths following clashes between police and demonstrators.

Mr Kerry described Russia’s action as an “incredible act of ­aggression” and called for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

He said: “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.”

Russia still has “a right set of choices” that can be made to defuse the crisis, he added.

Asked about military action he said that Mr Obama “has all options on the table”. He added: “The hope of the United States and everybody in the world is not to see this escalate into a military confrontation.”

Mr Kerry also said recent events “put at question Russia’s capacity to be within the G8”.

“If Russia wants to be a G8 country, it needs to behave like a G8 country,” he said.

Mr Hague, meanwhile, flew to Kiev yesterday to meet the country’s besieged interim leaders.

He said: “We have to recognise the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine has been violated and this cannot be the way to conduct international ­affairs.

“The United Kingdom will join other G8 countries this week in suspending our co-operation under the G8, which Russia chairs this year, including the meetings this week for the preparation of the G8 summit.”

A Downing Street spokesman said last night: “The Prime Minister is clear that the focus of our engagement with Russia must be the situation in Ukraine, rather than other normal business.

“A stable Ukraine is in the interests of everyone – including the UK. Ukraine is one of the largest countries in Europe and a neighbour of the European Union. Its economic prosperity, security and stability matter.

“The sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine has been violated and this cannot be the way to conduct international affairs.”

UN chief Mr Ban, meanwhile, urged Mr Putin in a phone call to “urgently engage in direct dialogue with the authorities” in Kiev.

Calling the situation in Ukraine “as dangerous as it is destabilising”, Ms Power told a UN Security Council meeting: “It is time for the Russian military intervention in Ukraine to end.”

Ms Power and other members of the council called for international monitors to be sent to Ukraine to observe the situation. Ms Power warned that “Russia’s provocative actions could easily push the situation beyond the breaking point”.

The security council met in emergency session for the second day to discuss the rapidly developing events in Ukraine. It took no action.

As a permanent member of the council, Russia has veto power and can block the UN’s most powerful body from adopting any resolution criticising or sanctioning Moscow.

Russia’s UN ambassador ­Vitaly Churkin said the government in Kiev needed to get away from “radicals” and warned: “Such actions they’re taking could lead to very difficult developments, which the Russian Federation is trying to avoid.”

Russia has given refuge to Ukraine’s now-fugitive president Viktor Yanukovich, who fled after demonstrations turned violent amid tensions over his decision to turn Ukraine towards Russia, its long-time patron, instead of the European Union.

Mr Churkin said Russia was intervening at the request of pro-Russian authorities in the semi-autonomous Crimea, which is largely Russian-speaking and is home to Russia’s Black Sea navy fleet.

Deputy UN secretary general Jan Eliasson called the situation in Ukraine “very difficult and very dangerous” and said they were seeing “negative signs, serious signs, risks of escalation”.

Ukraine’s UN ambassador ,Yuriy Sergeyev, asked for help in stopping Russia’s “aggression”.

When asked whether Ukraine was at war with Russia, he said: “No. We are not at war. We are trying to avoid any clashes. We are being provoked.”

Ashdown: Putin like Hitler before Second World War

FORMER Liberal Democrat leader and special forces veteran Lord Ashdown warned tense times were ahead in eastern Europe.

He said Russian president Vladimir Putin’s actions were comparable to Hitler’s over Sudetenland at the start of the Second World War.

“We are one pace away from catastrophe at the moment – it would require one foolish act, a trigger-happy Russian soldier, a Ukrainian guard who acts aggressively at one of these institutions taken over by Russian supporters, a foolish act now could tip us over the edge,” he said.

“The good news is it is still possible Russia’s aims are limited – I think increasingly unlikely but still possible. They have legitimate rights under international treaty to the port of Sevastopol for the Black Sea Fleet. They may be posturing, over-reacting or at least using muscle to preserve that right.

“We still have to test out what are Russia’s aims. It looks to me they have already made a power grab in Crimea and are now preparing to make another.

“The one thing which is absolutely essential now is that the West speaks with a single voice… only in the face of that can we exercise diplomatic leverage.”

Lord Ashdown said the German chancellor Angela Merkel should go to Moscow for talks, saying she would be “the most important international visitor”.

“President Putin has taken the view if he uses the military card we will not out-trump him. And he’s right, we will not respond in the military fashion… one has to presume that.

“The only option left is the diplomatic option.”