Russia will face diplomatic, political, and economic pressure in response to its violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, David Cameron warned last night.
The Prime Minister, who chaired a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the crisis, said that the world needed to send a “clear message” to Moscow.
Mr Cameron’s intervention came amid reports that the commander of the Russian Black Sea fleet had issued an ultimatum to Ukrainian forces in the Crimean region to surrender by early today or face attack amid mounting fears the crisis will explode into bloodshed.
The Russian defence ministry was subsequently quoted as dismissing the claims as “utter nonsense”, but the reports did nothing to lessen tensions.
Last night there were further reports of Russian troop movements amid speculation Moscow is poised to enter eastern Ukraine.
A photograph of a document being carried in to Downing Street appeared to reveal elements of Britain’s stance – including initial opposition to trade sanctions.
The text of the paper referred to support for visa restrictions and travel bans on key figures.
But it also stated: “UK should not support, for now, trade sanctions... or close London’s financial centre to Russians”.
It confirms the desire to “discourage any discussion (eg at Nato) of contingency military preparations” and notes EU work on how to provide Ukraine with gas should Moscow halt supplies. Nato leaders will meet today to discuss the crisis.
Speaking in Downing Street yesterday, Mr Cameron said: “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.”
The Prime Minister, who has ruled out military intervention, said: “What matters now is that a very clear message is sent from across the world to the people of the Ukraine that we want to allow you to choose your own future; and an equally clear message to the Russian government that continuing down this path of violating the sovereignty of another country will have costs and consequences.”
There was a similar message from Foreign Secretary William Hague after attending talks in Kiev with the beleaguered interim Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
“If Russia cannot be persuaded to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, there will have to be other consequences and other costs.
“We will act in a united way with other nations in the world,” he said.
The Foreign Secretary, who described the situation following the deployment of thousands of Russian troops into the Crimean peninsula as “the biggest crisis in Europe in the 21st century”, expressed concern at the potential for further escalation.
“There is a constant risk of miscalculation, of a flashpoint arising [in the Crimea] or in other parts of Ukraine,” he said.
Russia has continued to insist its troops have the right to defend ethnic Russians – who account for almost 60 per cent of the population of Crimea – until “the normalisation of the political situation” in Ukraine.
“We are talking here about protection of our citizens and compatriots, about protection of the most fundamental of the human rights – the right to live and nothing more,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.
Mr Yatsenuk admitted his country had “no military options on the table” to reverse Russia’s military movements.