US warns Moscow of ‘huge price’ to pay as Russians spread out across Crimea

Ukraine says it is on ‘brink of disaster’

Some of a strong force of heavily armed soldiers without any insignia who surrounded a Ukrainian military base in Crimea yesterday. Photograph: Seán Gallup/Getty Images

Some of a strong force of heavily armed soldiers without any insignia who surrounded a Ukrainian military base in Crimea yesterday. Photograph: Seán Gallup/Getty Images

 

Ukraine says it is “on the brink of disaster” as Russian forces fan out across Crimea, amid US warnings that Moscow could pay “a huge price” for its military incursion.

Last night, Russian soldiers without insignia on their uniforms had surrounded Ukrainian military bases at Perevalnoye and Feodosiya, on the Black Sea peninsula, where Moscow’s men have mostly been welcomed by its ethnic- Russian majority.

The newly appointed head of Ukraine’s navy, Rear Admiral Denis Berezovsky, resigned yesterday after just one day in his post, and swore allegiance to Crimea’s pro-Russian leader. The Kiev government quickly replaced him and charged him with treason.

Possible war
Kiev’s new leaders, who took power after president Viktor Yanukovich and allies fled on February 21st, called up its army reserves amid frantic preparations for possible war with its much more powerful neighbour, which says political upheaval in Ukraine threatens its citizens there.

Moscow has not officially declared hostilities against Ukraine, but its troops have been taking control of key facilities in Crimea for several days, and Russia’s parliament on Saturday gave President Vladimir Putin permission to send the military onto Kiev’s territory.

“This is not a threat: this is actually the declaration of war to my country . . . We are on the brink of disaster,” said Ukraine’s prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. “We believe that our western partners and the entire global community will support the territorial integrity and unity of Ukraine,” he added in a television address yesterday.

As of last night, there had been no clashes during Russia’s incursion into Crimea.

The United States, European Union and Nato have condemned Russia’s actions.

“You just don’t, in the 21st century, behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on a completely trumped up pretext,” US secretary of state John Kerry said yesterday.

He warned that Moscow could pay “a huge price” for its actions, with G8 nations ready “to go to the hilt to isolate Russia”. “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,” Mr Kerry said, listing visa bans and asset freezes on Moscow officials as possible moves.

“American businesses may well want to start thinking twice about whether they want to do business with a country that behaves like this,” he said.

US president Barack Obama spoke to Mr Putin by telephone for 90 minutes on Saturday, a day after telling him there would be “costs” for Russia if it pursued military action against Ukraine.

European foreign ministers will consider imposing targeted asset freezes on Moscow when they meet for an emergency meeting in Brussels today – the second such gathering in 10 days.

International observers
Nato yesterday called for international observers to be dispatched to Ukraine.

Mr Putin defended his actions in a phone conversation last night with German chancellor Angela Merkel, telling her that Moscow was acting appropriately against “the unrelenting threat of violence” to “Russian citizens and the whole Russian-speaking population” in Ukraine.