AFRICANGLOBE – The standoff between Ukraine and Russia is the “biggest crisis in Europe of the 21st century,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Monday as Russia’s foreign minister insisted that his nation’s troops were needed in Crimea to protect Russian citizens.
Hague, who was speaking to BBC radio from Kiev, said that Russia is now in operational control of Ukraine’s Crimean region.
Meanwhile, at a session of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council in Geneva, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said: “This is a question of defending our citizens and compatriots, ensuring human rights, especially the right to life.
“Those who are trying to interpret the situation as a sort of aggression and threatening sanctions and boycotts, these are the same partners of ours who have consistently encouraged their political forces in the ultimatum to refuse dialogue and ultimately have polarized Ukrainian society,” Lavrov added.
Lavrov is expected later Monday to meet with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon to discuss the situation.
The dramatic British characterization of events comes as Western countries issued a joint statement Monday on the increasingly fraught political situation in Ukraine and as geopolitical fears spread in earnest to the global investment community.
“We, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States and the President of the European Council and President of the European Commission, join together today to condemn the Russian Federation’s clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, in contravention of Russia’s obligations under the U.N. Charter and its 1997 basing agreement with Ukraine,” the leaders said in the statement.
The USA and other nations have already suspended preparations for a G-8 summit due to be held in Sochi, Russia, in June.
In a bid to reverse a plunge in the ruble — Russia’s currency — the Bank of Russia hiked its key interest rate to 7% from 5.5% early Monday. Russia’s benchmark Micex index fell as much as 11% and markets across Asia declined sharply. Wall Street is on track to start the week with steep losses.
“Any attempt of Russia to grab Crimea will have no success at all. Give us some time,” Britain’s Hague said in a separate news conference in Kiev on Monday.
“For today, no military options (are) on the table,” he said, adding that what Ukraine urgently needed was economic and political support.
“Real support. Tangible support. And we do believe that our Western partners will provide this support,” he said.
Hague said “the world cannot just allow this to happen.” But he ruled out any military action.
Russia tightened its military grip on Crimea as troops thought to be sympathetic to Moscow seized a ferry terminal in the city of Kerch. Unidentified soldiers that Ukraine’s government has said belong to Russia’s military have already taken over airports in Crimea and besieged military bases on the strategic Black Sea peninsula.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk insisted that Crimea remains Ukrainian territory despite the presence of Russian military.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and European foreign ministers announced plans Sunday for talks in Kiev aimed at easing rising tensions as Ukraine put its military on high alert and appealed for international help against a feared invasion by Russia.
By: Kim Hjelmgaard