Ukraine latest: US Secretary of State John Kerry threatens ‘serious steps’ over Crimea vote, as key talks loom in London
The comments come days before a referendum to decide whether the contentious Crimean peninsula remains in Ukraine
In his sternest words yet, the US Secretary of State has warned Russia that failure to accept a diplomatic compromise in the stand-off over Crimea will open Moscow up to a new “very serious series of steps” against it by Europe and the United States.
John Kerry was speaking in Washington before flying to London where he will meet today with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, to plead again for a change of tack by Russia following its de facto seizure of control of Crimea earlier this month. He warned that if Russia did not accept a diplomatic compromise ahead of Crimea’s planned referendum on breaking away from Ukraine on Sunday, then the US and Europe would begin to take punitive measures “as early as Monday” of next week. He said he hoped “ reason would prevail”.
“My hope is they [Russia] will become aware of the fact that the international community is really strongly united,” he said. He said he would suggest to Mr Lavrov that Russia agree to “something short of a full annexation”.
Addressing the UN Security Council in New York, the Prime Minister of Ukraine, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, noted that his country faced a threat from none other than one of its own five permanent members.
“It is absolutely and entirely unacceptable in the 21st century to resolve any kind of conflict with tanks, artillery and boots on the ground,” he said, speaking mostly in English.
A poster in Crimea presents a stark choice - Nazism, or Russia - to voters ahead of Sunday's referendum
Pleading for a peaceful end to the crisis, he later switched to Russian and looked directly across the chamber to Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the UN. “I would like to address Russia,” he began. “We are looking for an answer to the question whether the Russians want war … I am convinced Russians do not want war and I hope the Russian government will heed the wishes of its people and return to the table and to dialogue to resolve this conflict.”
More jarringly, Mr Yatsenyuk appeared to signal something close to regret in the current circumstances that Ukraine had given up its nuclear arsenal after independence in the early Nineties. “We gave up one of the biggest arsenals of nuclear weapons,” he said. “ After this it would be very difficult to convince anyone in the globe not to have nuclear weapons.”
While there is scant hope that Russia can be persuaded to put off or scrap the referendum, Washington remains deeply anxious to pre-empt whatever it is planning next.
In Kiev, the acting President of Ukraine, Olexander Turchinov, said that Russia had amassed its forces along Ukraine’s eastern border and was “ready to invade”. But he said he still hoped that would not happen. “All of civilised humanity supports our country,” he said.
“All the leading countries of the world are on the side of Ukraine, and I am sure that this united effort in the international arena, bringing together all democratic countries, can still allow us to halt this aggression.”
Pro-Russian forces dubbed the "military forces of the autonomous republic of Crimea" during their swearing-in ceremony in Simferopol.
Mr Kerry didn’t elaborate on what new steps might be taken next week, but some would be triggered just by the referendum, he said. “In addition, if there is no sign [of Russian compromise] there will be a very serious series of steps on Monday in Europe and here,” he said.
Meanwhile, at least one person was killed in clashes between pro- and anti-Moscow demonstrators in the city of Donetsk.
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