Crimean parliament seeks to join Russia
EU leaders unlikely to impose sanctions
Crimea’s parliament has voted to join Russia and its Moscow-backed government set a referendum within 10 days on the decision in a dramatic escalation of the crisis over the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula.
The move comes as EU leaders hold an emergency meeting in Brussels amid a growing sense that EU leaders are unlikely to adopt targeted sanctions against Russia at an emergency meeting of EU leaders today in Brussels.
Ukraine’s prime minister Arseny Yatseniuk said today that a decree making Crimea part of Russia was an illegitimate move and Crimea was and will remain an integral part of the country.
“This is an illegitimate decision and this so-called referendum has no legal grounds at all. That’s the reason why we urge the Russian government not to support those who support separatism in the Ukraine, ” Mr Yatseniuk told a news conference in Brussels following talks with EU leaders.
“Crimea is was and will be an integral part of Ukraine.” He also urged Russia to withdraw its military from Crimea and said the current crisis must be resolved only through peaceful means.
Meanwhile the Obama administration restricted visas for Ukrainian officials and others, including Russians, who it says are threatening the sovereignty of Ukraine.
US president Barack Obama also authorised the imposition of financial sanctions, clearing the way for escalating pressure. The actions are aimed anyone who threatens “the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a written statement.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said today there was no agreement as yet between Moscow and Washington over the crisis in Ukraine, Interfax news agency reported. “For now we cannot tell the international community that we have an agreement,” Mr Lavrov was quoted as saying after meeting his US counterpart, secretary of state John Kerry, in Rome.
EU foreign ministers on Monday warned of consequences unless there was further ‘de-escalation’ of the crisis in Crimea, but stopped short of imposing sanctions.
Leaders from the 28 member states will today be briefed by countries such as France, Germany and Britain who have been in contact with Moscow bilaterally over the past 72 hours.
They also heard from Mr Yatsenyuk before he travels to Dublin where he will address delegates at the European People’s Party congress this afternoon.
But a draft conclusion of today’s meeting includes no specific mention of sanctions, though it reiterates that failure to de-escalate the situation “will have serious consequences on our bilateral relationship.”
While moves to suspend visa liberalisation and co-operation talks with Russia have been openly discussed by EU countries, any move to impose targeted sanctions or asset freezes on individuals is some way off, according to EU officials, given the stringent legal requirements that would have to be implemented.
There is a sense that, while the situation has not significantly escalated, neither has it de-escalated since Monday, EU officials said, lessening the case for a move today on sanctions.
The fact that Russia is in dialogue with a number of member states, may also remove the imperative to act on sanctions. Separately, targeted asset freezes are to take effect on 18 Ukrainian individuals today, following the decision by foreign ministers on February 21st to impose sanctions.
While EU leaders will commend the Ukrainian government’s “measured response” to the crisis in Crimea, it will stress the need for Ukraine to ensure free and fair elections, advocate constitutional reform and “investigate all acts of violence.”
Germany was among the countries urging restraint in terms of sanctions at Monday’s meeting of foreign ministers.
On her way into the meeting German chancellor Angela Merkel said “We will talk about how we can help Ukraine in its current situation. We want that people who have fought for freedom and democracy can now see some positive developments.
“We will also talk about sanctions of different kind and form, whether they will enter into force or not we will decide based on how far diplomatic efforts proceed.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny arrives in Brussels this morning for the meeting, before returning to Dublin for the European People’s Party (EPP) conference this afternoon.
Earlier today the EU frozen the assets of ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich and 17 other officials, including former prime minister Mykola Azarov, suspected of violations of human rights and misuse of state funds.
US secretary of state John Kerry is to meet EU foreign ministers from Italy, UK, France and Germany today to discuss Ukraine.
Meanwhile in Ukraine, the country again again flew its flag over the regional administration building in the eastern city of Donetsk today after pro-Moscow demonstrators were ejected, and police at the scene said a local pro-Russian businessman and protest leader had been arrested.
The talks comes after Moscow yesterday rebuffed Western diplomatic efforts to persuade it to pull forces in Crimea back to their bases.
The Kremlin said Mr Putin spoke to German chancellor Angela Merkel last night about “possible options for international assistance to normalise the social-political situation” in Ukraine. In Paris, meanwhile, the foreign ministers of France, Russia, the United States, Germany, Britain and Ukraine held talks in different formats.
Despite requests from western diplomats, Mr Lavrov did not meet Kiev counterpart Andriy Deshchytsya. “We are all concerned at what it is happening there,” said Mr Lavrov. “We agreed to continue those discussions in the days to come to see how best we can help stabilise, normalise the situation and overcome the crisis.” Asked why he did not meet Mr Lavrov, Mr Deshchytsya replied: “Ask Lavrov.”
Nato announced a full review of co-operation with Russia and a downgrading of meetings, alongside an intensification of training and other contact with Ukraine’s military.
US defence secretary Chuck Hagel said the Pentagon was stepping up flight training with the Polish airforce and the US role in Nato air patrols over the ex-Soviet Baltic states. In Crimea, Russian troops and local militia continued to encircle Ukrainian military bases across the peninsula of two million people, about 60 per cent of whom are ethnic-Russian.
Mr Lavrov claimed troops – with no insignia – were “self-defence units created by the inhabitants of Crimea. We give them no orders . . . As for the military personnel of the Black Sea Fleet, they are in their deployment sites. Yes, additional vigilance measures were taken to safeguard the sites . . . We will do everything not to allow any bloodshed.”
Russia, which has a lease until 2042 to base naval ships at the Crimean port of Sevastopol, claims its troops fanned out from that base to protect Russian speakers in Crimea from fascist thugs linked to Ukraine’s government.
The West says such claims are nonsense. Armed men last night surrounded Robert Serry, a UN special envoy, in the Crimea’s capital, Simferopol.
He was besieged in a cafe by people chanting pro-Russian slogans, and later driven to the airport by the gunmen. Moscow and local militia oppose foreign monitoring of Crimea. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe has sent 35 unarmed military personnel from 18 countries to Ukraine to act as observers in Crimea for one week.
Additional reporting Reuters