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Last updated: March 3, 2014 1:11 am
The international community on Sunday rounded on Russia, condemning its creeping invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and warning it could face economic isolation.
Leaders of the G7 nations - the US, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada - released a joint statement “condemning the Russian Federation’s clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”, in a sign that a more co-ordinated international response is beginning to take shape.
The leaders said they were all suspending their participation in the G8 summit scheduled to take place in Russia in June. But they also said they supported the idea of sending international mediators to Ukraine to deal with Moscow’s complaints about threats to the Russian-speaking population.
The G7 statement came after both Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato’s secretary-general, and Angela Merkel, German chancellor, accused Russia of violating international law.
Mr Fogh Rasmussen said Moscow’s de facto seizure of the majority ethnic Russian peninsula in southern Ukraine threatened “peace and security in Europe”. He condemned Russian military action and called on Russian forces to return to their bases.
– Kiev accuses Moscow of “declaring war” on Ukraine
– Nato’s Rasmussen claims Russia in violation of UN charter, raising prospect of sanctions
– US’s Kerry says there would be serious repercussions for Russia’s actions
– EU foreign ministers to meet on Monday
Ms Merkel accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of breaching international law with “unacceptable Russian intervention” in Crimea, a German government spokesman said.
David Cameron, British prime minister, said he and US president Barack Obama agreed that there must be “significant costs” to Russia unless it changed course on Ukraine.
“The Russians have miscalculated here,” said a senior US administration official. “Their economy is quite vulnerable” to sanctions, including Russian banks, the official added. “You are seeing the US, the rest of the G7, the rest of Nato and a broad section of the rest of the world acting together and beginning to isolate Russia.”
The condemnation came as Ukraine’s new prime minister Arseniy Yatseniuk accused Mr Putin of declaring “war on my country” after he requested and received permission to use the Russian army anywhere in Ukraine.
US secretary of state John Kerry warned that Russia’s actions could rebound on it economically, and hinted that Moscow could be ejected from the G8 group of leading economies.
Mr Kerry, who will arrive in Kiev on Tuesday, condemned what he called an “incredible act of aggression” by Moscow. “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in a 19th century fashion by invading another country on a completely trumped-up pretext,” he told CBS’s Face the Nation.
Mr Kerry added that Mr Putin “may find himself with asset freezes on Russian business. American business may pull back, there may be a further tumble of the rouble”. The US has already cancelled trade talks scheduled for this week on a bilateral investment treaty and another set of talks with Russia on energy issues.
Ukraine mobilised its army for war and said it would call up reserves, as the crisis sparked by the overthrow of Ukraine’s president Viktor Yanukovich a week earlier escalated into the biggest threat to European security since the end of the cold war.
Both Nato and the US support international monitors being sent to Ukraine. The US is also pushing for a team of monitors from the OSCE, Europe’s human rights watchdog, to travel to the country to report on threats to Ukraine’s Russia-speaking population.
Kiev is facing its most serious crisis since independence in 1991 in a dispute over trade links with the EU and Russia
In Brussels, one Nato diplomat said there was no discussion of military planning or moves on Nato’s side. “That’s not on anyone’s mind,” said the diplomat. “We need to contribute to the de-escalation of the crisis.”
However, Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s prime minister, said on Sunday that Ukraine’s new leaders would not last because they had come to power illegally. “Such order will be extremely unstable. It will end in a new revolution. New blood,” Mr Medvedev said on his Facebook page.
Alexander Yakovenko, Russian ambassador to London, reiterated that although Mr Putin had been granted wide powers to use the army, “that doesn’t mean that the president will use his powers immediately”.
“Russia remains open to co-operation with all partners in order to seek a political solution to the crisis,” he added.
Russia began its incursion into Crimea, home of its Black Sea Fleet, on Thursday when armed men seized the autonomous region’s parliament and installed a pro-Russian prime minister.
In the peninsula on Sunday, hundreds of armed Russian soldiers swarmed around in unmarked army uniforms, patrolling outside all of the region’s air, sea and military bases.
‘You just don’t in the 21st century behave in a 19th century fashion by invading another country on a completely trumped-up pretext’
- John Kerry, US secretary of state
Ukrainian soldiers refused to quit their bases, leading at times to an awkward stand-off between troops keeping guard inside the compounds and Russian soldiers outside. As of Sunday evening, however, there had been no reports of gunfire or skirmishes.
In what would be a highly dangerous escalation, Russian media and officials appeared to be trying to build a case for military intervention in eastern Ukraine by claiming that Kiev’s new government was violating the rights of the mostly Russian-speaking population in the east.
Many claims could not be verified and some proved unfounded, with border guards telling the FT on the Russian-Ukrainian border that a report of thousands of Ukrainian refugees crossing into Russia was “nonsense”.
However, in Kharkiv, the east’s largest city, thousands of pro-Russian demonstrators opposed to the Kiev government on Saturday stormed a regional administrative building, briefly hanging a Russian flag from the building.
In Kiev on Sunday, tens of thousands of citizens gathered in the city’s main square voicing solidarity with Crimeans and condemning Moscow’s intervention.
In what seemed a blow to Kiev late on Sunday, Ukraine’s recently appointed navy commander Denis Berezovsky pledged allegiance to the new leadership in Crimea. But Ukraine’s defence ministry quickly announced Mr Berezovsky had been fired earlier in the day due to ineffective leadership, and insisted that the navy at large remained loyal to Kiev.
There were signs that the tensions were taking a toll on both the Russian and Ukrainian economies. Some foreign exchange dealers in Moscow were on Sunday selling roubles at more than 37 to the dollar, 3 per cent weaker than Friday’s close of 35.86.
In Ukraine, Privatbank, the country’s largest commercial bank, announced temporary limits on cash withdrawals for account holders and suspended writing new loans, saying the measures were intended to “stop those undermining the political situation in the country”.
Privatbank’s co-owner Igor Kolomoisky is one of several Ukrainian oligarchs who have pledged to support the defence of the country, in a sign Russian pressure may be uniting Ukraine, rather than dividing it.
Additional reporting by Jack Farchy in Moscow, Geoff Dyer in Washington and Jan Cienski in Kharkiv
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