Ukraine crisis: Hague warns of ‘serious consequences’ for Russia over attempts to destabilise its neighbour

Addressing the Lord Mayor’s Easter banquet in London, the Foreign Secretary urges the international community to stand firm in response to Russian aggression

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The East-West diplomatic row over Ukraine has deepened in tandem with the crisis on the ground, with the US praising the “measured” response by Kiev and Moscow saying it was “deeply concerned” by developments.

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, warned Russia of “serious long-term consequences” over its attempt to destabilise Ukraine.

Addressing the Lord Mayor’s Easter banquet in London, he urged the international community to stand firm in response to Russian aggression. He said the annexation of Crimea had violated fundamental principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity built up since the Second World War.

“If we do not defend those principles in Ukraine, including over Crimea, they will be threatened elsewhere in Europe and around the world,” he said. “We have to maintain strength and unity and confidence now, or our resolve could be tested even more severely in the future.”

He argued: “We are at a crucial moment in this crisis. Russia must choose whether it is open to diplomacy and de-escalation, and if it decides otherwise, we must be ready for a different state of relations with Russia in the next 10 years than in the last 20.”

Mr Hague accused Moscow of dispatching “armed groups, thinly disguised, to spearhead the occupation of buildings in multiple Ukrainian cities to try permanently to destabilise the country and dictate the terms of its constitution”.

He said: “My message to Moscow is that if anyone thinks they can do these things without serious long-term consequences they are making a grave miscalculation.”

Earlier in the day Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, applauded Kiev’s reaction saying that provocations by pro-Russian separatists had left the Ukrainian government little option but to act.

In Moscow, Konstantin Dolgov, the Russia Foreign Ministry’s representative for human rights, said: “The reports we are getting cause deep concern. To all appearances, events are beginning to develop under the worst-case scenario.”

Nato’s Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the EU must strengthen its military cooperation with Nato. Ahead of a meeting of EU defence ministers, he stressed that evidence showed it was “very clear that Russia’s hand is deeply engaged in this”. Similar accusations were aired by EU foreign ministers a day earlier, but have been strongly denied by Russia.

While Ukraine is not a member of Nato and therefore not under its automatic protection, other EU nations which border Russia are, and there has been discussion of beefing up Nato missions along their borders.

The Polish defence minister, Tomasz Siemoniak, said Nato should send significant numbers of troops to Eastern Europe “Threats are still present in Europe,” he said. “We believe that Nato should not be limited in anything which concerns the security of its members.”

Russia has baulked at Nao’s eastward creep in the past – most notably when Ukraine and Georgia raised the possibility of membership in 2008 – and many European nations are cautious of further antagonising Moscow. Mr Rasmussen said no decision had yet been made on creating military bases in Eastern Europe, but did call for more security readiness from the EU.

The meeting of defence ministers in Luxembourg came a day after the 28 EU foreign ministers tried another stab at diplomatic pressure to convince Moscow to move its troops away from the Ukrainian border, enter negotiations with Kiev, and withdraw threats to send troops into Ukraine under the pretext of protecting ethnic Russians.

If a meeting between the EU, Russia, the US and Ukraine in Geneva tomorrow does not result in any progress, the EU could move onto the next stage of economic sanctions. These could hit sectors including energy, arms and financial services, but would also have economic repercussions for EU nations, causing some caution among member states which would be disproportionately affected.