Ukraine crisis: This is Europe’s biggest crisis in the 21st century, warns William Hague as Russia defiantly threatens a military assault on Crimea

Ukraine’s acting president has received strong words of support from the West after the occupation of Crimea

Western countries scrambled to pile the pressure on Russia on Monday in an effort to bring an end to its occupation of Crimea, as Ukraine’s acting president warned of a growing military presence on the troubled peninsula.

It came as the commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet Aleksander Vitko, threatened a full assault if Ukrainian forces in Crimea did not surrender by dawn, defence sources in Kiev said. However, Interfax news agency later quoted a Russian spokesman denying that any such ultimatum had been issued.

Last night President Barack Obama accused Russia of being “on the wrong side of history” and said diplomatic and economic steps to isolate Moscow were being assessed.

“Over time this will be a costly proposition for Russia and now’s the time for them to consider whether they can serve their interests in a way that resorts to diplomacy as opposed to force,” he said.

Meanwhile there were reports last night that Russia’s UN envoy said ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had requested Russia to use military force in Ukraine.

Vitaly Churkin said in a speech at the UN that Mr Yanukovych had made the request in writing to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, visited Ukraine’s new government in Kiev yesterday, where he described the deteriorating situation as the “biggest crisis in Europe in the 21st century”. He warned the “world cannot just allow this to happen” and added: “ Russia should be in no doubt about this. This is something that we take very seriously.”

Read more: Ukraine appeals to Moscow: ‘This is a crime and you will answer for it’
Russia dismisses '3am ultimatum' as 'total nonsense
Latest: Ukraine 'on the brink of disaster' as Russian troop movements prompt stand-off
Ukraine crisis: Nato ‘betrayal’ and Brussels rhetoric pushing Vladimir Putin to act
Ukraine crisis: UK ministers to boycott Paralympics in response to Russia’s ‘declaration of war’

Ukraine’s acting President, Olexander Turchynov, said Russia’s Black Sea Fleet had trapped Ukrainian navy vessels in the bays of Sevastopol, the Crimean port where the Russian fleet has a base.

“The situation in Crimea remains tense and Russia’s military presence is growing,” Mr Turchynov said. “I appeal to Russia’s leadership – stop the provocative actions, aggression and piracy. This is a crime and you will answer for it.”

But the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted “this is a question of defending our citizens and compatriots, ensuring human rights, especially the right to life”.

David Cameron, the Prime Minister, signalled last night that Russia would face economic sanctions from the EU if it fails to withdraw its troops from Ukrainian soil. He raised the prospect of “ diplomatic, political, economic and other pressure” being brought to bear against Moscow.

But it emerged later that Britain would be unlikely to take any steps that could hit trade with Russia or block Russian involvement in the City of London. According to a private government briefing note that emerged last night, ministers are considering visa restrictions and travel bans on key Russian figures.

The note, which was photographed as an official carried it into Downing Street, said ministers should “discourage any discussion (eg at Nato) of contingency military preparations” and support “ contingency EU work on providing Ukraine with alternative gas” and oil supplies “if Russia cuts them off”. It said “The UK should not support for now trade sanctions or close London’s financial centre to Russians”.

The White House said yesterday it would no longer be sending a presidential delegation to the winter Paralympics in Sochi. It said it and six other nations were suspending preparations for a summit of the Group of 8 that Russia is due to host, also in Sochi, in June.

The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, was flying last night to Kiev while the European Union set up an emergency summit of its leaders in Brussels on Thursday to craft a response to the crisis.

A US official said the country was “moving down the path” of imposing economic sanctions on Russia unless the crisis is defused quickly.

The Washington Post accused President Obama of practising a foreign policy “based on fantasy” rather than realities. “Obama has led a foreign policy based more on how he thinks the world should operate than on reality,” it lamented noting his “failure to enforce his ‘red line’” in Syria was a liability.

British sources said the UK was keen to keep communications open with the Putin administration in the hope of moving towards a “ de-escalation” of the situation. However, London repeatedly warned yesterday that the invasion of Crimea could result in “significant costs” for the Russian government. The warning will be reinforced at a meeting of foreign ministers, including Mr Lavrov, at the UN Security Council tomorrow. Mr Cameron chaired a meeting of the National Security Council in London to discuss the crisis..

Speaking afterwards, he said all nations needed to send a “clear message” to Moscow that its actions could not be tolerated. “What we want to see is a de-escalation rather than a continuation down the path that the Russian government has taken, violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of another country,” he said. “We shall have to bring to bear diplomatic, political, economic and other pressures in order to make this point.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions