Ukraine crisis: Western powers join together to increase pressure on Russia

The EU and the UN are both threatening economic sanctions in an attempt to avoid a military intervention into the crisis

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The Independent Online

Russia has rejected reports that it threatened Ukraine with military assault if it did not surrender the Crimea by 3am on Tuesday as “total nonsense”, amid calls and increasing pressure on Russia from Western powers to withdraw troops from the strategic region.

Despite Russia’s denial that it issued an ultimatum, in the the worst diplomatic crisis since the Cold War the US State Department said a Russian threat to Ukraine's navy would be a “dangerous escalation” of an extremely tense situation.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's acting president said that Russia's military presence was growing in the Crimea region on Monday, and urged Moscow to halt what he called aggression and piracy.

Oleksander Turchinov told a news briefing on Monday that the situation was “difficult” in some regions in the pro-Russian south and east of the country, but maintained that the Ukrainian authorities had the situation under control. 

He also 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.

“I appeal to Russia's leadership - stop the provocative actions, aggression and piracy. This is a crime and you will answer for it.”

His please came after the takeover of the Kerch ferry terminal on the eastern tip of Crimea by Russian troops, following reports that Russian fighter jets had “violated” Ukrainian airspace.

In an attempt to discuss how to stall Russia’s posturing, the UN Security Council has scheduled an open meeting for 3:30pm (8:30pm).

Armed man in military uniform, believed to be Russian, stands outside the territory of the Ukrainian naval headquarters (EPA)

It will be the third meeting of the Council since Friday, when Russian planes and troops first entered the Crimea.

Furthering the show of Western solidarity, the European Union also called its foreign ministers to discuss the situation on Monday and urged Russia to hold consultations with the interim government in Kiev in a bid to avoid military action, before an emergency summit of EU leaders scheduled on Thursday.

Instead, the EU said it will freeze visa liberalisation and economic co-operation talks if Moscow does not withdraw troops.

Mirroring the concerns expressed by G7 members on Sunday, the EU also called for the cancellation of the G8 summit in Russia’s Sochi if tensions do not ease.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said it would give Russia the opportunity show clear signs of goodwill, including a willingness to open talks and a withdrawal of Russian troops to their barracks in the Crimea.

If not, Fabius said the EU would start implementing punitive measures.

The White House has also announced it is likely to be “moving down the path” of imposing sanctions against Russia if actions in Ukraine continue, a state department official said on Monday evening.

In a show of solidarity with the EU, US Senator Chris Murphy, the chairman of the Senate's Europe subcommittee, said on Monday: “What is most important now is that the United States act in concert with our allies in Europe.”

An Orthodox priest holds a crucifix next to one of many armed men in military fatigues blocking access to a Ukrainian border guards base (Getty Images)

Secretary of State John Kerry is leaving for Ukraine late Monday and then will travel to France and Italy. He had planned to see his Russian counterpart in Paris, but Psaki said that meeting was no longer certain.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who chaired a meeting of the National Security Council in London, said that the world needed to send a ”clear message“ to Moscow.

”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.

“So we shall have to bring to bear diplomatic, political, economic and other pressures in order to make this point.

”That is the very clear message the whole world needs to send to the Russian government.“

While Russia denied the 3am ultimatum, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov justified the military incursion on Monday morning, claiming it was necessary in order to protect his country's citizens living there.

”This is a question of defending our citizens and compatriots, ensuring human rights, especially the right to life,“ he said.