On Wednesday, days ahead of a planned referendum, leaders of the G7 group of nations called on Russia to stop its efforts to “annex” Ukraine’s Crimea region, stating that if Russia takes such a step, they would “take further action, individually and collectively.” The G7 leaders also indicated that they would not recognize the results of a referendum in Crimea, which will be held this weekend, to decide on whether to split from Ukraine and join Russia. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s national security chief has warned of a major Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s borders.
The European Union (EU), along with the Group of Seven (G7) industrial nations, which includes Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, urged Russia to “cease all efforts to change the status of Crimea.” A statement released by the White House indicated, “in addition to its impact on the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea could have grave implications for the legal order that protects unity and sovereignty of all states.” According to officials in the US, Sunday’s referendum has “no legal effect” as it is in “direct violation” of Ukraine’s constitution. Officials added “given the lack of adequate preparation and the intimidating presence of Russian troops, it would also be a deeply flawed process which would have no moral force.”
The G7 leaders have repeated their calls for Russia to de-escalate the crisis by withdrawing its troops from Crimea, to talk directly with Kiev and to use international mediators in order to “address any legitimate concerns it may have.” Meanwhile European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso indicated that he hoped EU countries would keep their “very united and firm position because we don’t want to see, one century after the First World War, exactly the same kind of behaviour of countries annexing other countries.”
Other European leaders have also weighed in on the on going crisis. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has stated that it may be time for the EU “to consider the possibility of having second phase sanctions” against Russia. During a joint news conference with Mr Tusk, German Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated that the EU could sign the “political part” of a long-awaited agreement on closer ties with Ukraine later this month. In a further public indication of Western support for Ukraine’s new leadership, US President Barack Obama is set to meet with interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk later in Washington.
Despite the looming referendum, diplomatic efforts with Russia are continuing. US Secretary of State John Kerry has stated that he will travel to London to hold talks with Minister Sergei Lavron on Friday. According to the Kerry, he will present him “with a series of options” for resolving the crisis. France’s President Francois Hollande has also spoken by telephone with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, indicating that both agreed to “continue the discussion” on resolving the crisis. Despite Russia indicating that it may want to continue diplomatic discussions with the West, troop movements in Crimea demonstrate the Russia is unlikely to back down despite threats of sanctions.
Ukraine’s national security chief Andriy Parubiy indicated Wednesday that Moscow had not withdrawn its troops after carrying out military exercises near Ukraine’s eastern and southern frontiers last month. He further noted that the Russian army “is only two to three hours” from Kiev, adding that Ukraine’s “units are positioned to repel attacks from any direction.” Sources have indicated that Russian troops have been seen massing on Ukraine’s eastern and southern borders, with Ukrainian officials describing the situation as “critical.” He has accused Moscow of sending “subversive agents” into those areas to try to create a pre-text to deploy troops in the same way it has done in Crimea. Mr Parubiy has also indicated that Kiev’s parliament will vote on Thursday to establish a National Guard of 20,000 people, recruited from activists involved in the recent pro-Western protests as well as former military academies, in order to strengthen Ukraine’s defences. He indicated that the National Guard would be deployed to “protect state borders, general security and prevent ‘terrorist activities.’”
- 21 November 2013 – President Victor Yanukovych abandons deal on closer ties with the EU in favour of closer co-operation with Russia
- December 2013 – Pro-EU protesters occupy Kiev city hall and Independence Square.
- 20 February 2014 – At least 88 people are killed in 48 hours of bloodshed in Kiev.
- 21 February 2014 – President Yanukovych signs compromise deal with opposition leaders.
- 22 February 2014 – President Yanukovych flees Kiev. Parliament votes to remove him and sets presidential elections for 25 May.
- 27 – 28 February 2014 – Pro-Russian gunmen seize key buildings in Crimean capital Simeferopol
- 1 March 2014 – Russian parliament approves President Vladimir Putin’s request to use Russian forces in Ukraine.
- 6 March 2014 – Crimea’s parliament asks to join Russia and sets a referendum for 16 March.