Ukraine warns Russian troops moving closer
Breakthrough as Moscow agrees to let OSCE military observers tour Ukraine
Russian sailors stand guard yesterday on Ukranian ship Ternopol, seized by Russian troops, in Sevastopol. Photograph: Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko
Ukraine has warned of worrying Russian troop movements near its eastern border, as president Vladimir Putin signed documents to formalise the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea.
With pomp befitting what many Russians see as a historic moment, Mr Putin congratulated his nation and Crimea on what he called “a momentous event”, even as Moscow’s stock market slipped in response to the latest round of sanctions imposed by Washington and Brussels.
Last night, Ukraine’s deputy defence minister Leonid Polyakov said “the accumulated military potential on our borders could be used against us at any moment”, claiming that having conducted exercises Russian forces were moving closer to Ukraine rather than returning to base. US national security adviser Susan Rice said Washington was “taking note of developments along Ukraine’s border”.
“The Russians have stated that they are intending military exercises,” she said. “Obviously given their past practice and the gap between what they have said and what they have done, we are watching it with scepticism.”
Mr Putin insisted this week he had no intention of pushing into eastern Ukraine, but he also asserted Moscow’s right to protect Russian-speakers whom he deems to be in danger from “fascist” supporters of Kiev’s new pro-Western government.
After the US and EU imposed sanctions on officials close to Mr Putin, Moscow’s main stock exchange fell by 1 per cent and the yield on government bonds rose the most in a week. Officials said two major credit card companies were refusing to make transactions with several banks linked to Bank Rossiya, which was on the sanctions list. Amid deteriorating east-west relations, a breakthrough emerged last night as the 57-state Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe finally secured Russian agreement to send a 100-strong monitoring mission to Ukraine.
Military observers from the OSCE were blocked by pro-Russian gunmen from entering Crimea, and Moscow stymied all previous efforts to approve the deployment of monitors to other regions of Ukraine.
“What is important at this time is for Ukrainian and Russian authorities to sit down together and engage in direct and constructive dialogue,” United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon said after meeting Ukraine’s acting president Oleksandr Turchinov. The Ukrainian leader urged the UN to help fully demilitarise Crimea, to “stop any more aggressive developments and . . . discuss Crimea’s future through diplomatic channels and in a peaceful way.”
He reiterated, however, that “Ukraine will never accept the occupation of its territory . . . and will do its best to regain Crimea.”
After signing a landmark deal on closer relations with the EU, prime minister Arseniy Yatseniuk said Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian state property would cost Kiev “not billions, but hundreds of billions of dollars”.
“Russia can only wait patiently: in the near future the state of Ukraine will be filing complaints before international courts,” he warned.