William Hague has warned it will be “formidably difficult” to make progress defusing the Ukraine crisis, in an intense round of diplomacy in London.
The Foreign Secretary said it was “not too late” for a controversial referendum in Crimea, scheduled for Sunday, to be cancelled.
But he said he had to be “realistic” about the prospects, and insisted the EU and US were ready to impose sanctions if Moscow did not engage constructively.
Speaking after holding separate talks with US counterpart John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, Mr Hague said he believed both were “seriously committed” to making progress in face to face discussions.
“But the fact that so far Russia has not taken any actual action to de-escalate the tensions makes this a formidably difficult task today,” Mr Hague said.
Mr Hague said it was an “urgent moment” in the crisis with the situation between Ukraine and Russia “tense and dangerous”.
“It’s also urgent because the planned referendum for the Crimea takes place this Sunday,” he said. “This is a referendum which doesn’t meet any international norm or standards, it’s taking place without a campaign, without an electoral roll, without the political leaders of the country able to visit, in the presence of thousands of troops.
“It’s not a referendum any or us can recognise as a normal part of democracy. Holding that this Sunday has created a diplomatic deadline for these talks before other measures need to be taken.”
Mr Hague said he had reiterated to Mr Lavrov that EU sanctions would go ahead if there was no reduction in tensions.
“In the absence of progress today the EU, including the UK, will move to further measures as we have already agreed,” he said.
EU foreign ministers will meet on Monday to discuss the measures, which would include travel bans and asset freezes.