Kiev said its conflict with Russia was moving into a “military” phase after a Ukrainian serviceman was shot dead in Crimea, which Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin moved to take into the Russian Federation by signing a treaty with the region’s leaders.
“Russia is playing a dirty game to annexe Crimea. The second World War began with the annexation by Nazi Germany of other countries’ territories. Today, Putin is following the example of 20th-century fascists,” said Ukraine interim president Oleksandr Turchynov.
As millions of Russians and many of Crimea’s population of 2 million celebrated the prospect of Kremlin rule, US and European Union leaders said they were ready to take further measures against Moscow in the worst crisis in East-West relations since the cold war.
“The steps taken by President Putin today to attempt to annexe Crimea to Russia are in flagrant breach of international law and send a chilling message across the continent of Europe,” said British prime minister David Cameron.
“Russia will face more serious consequences and I will push European leaders to agree further EU measures,” he added, in advance of a summit of EU leaders tomorrow.
The White House said the annexation of Crimea and Sunday’s referendum in the region on joining Russia would “never be recognised by the United States and the international community”, and called for the G7 industrialised states to meet to discuss the crisis next week.
“If Russia refuses to change course, it will incur more costs, imposed by us, imposed by our friends and allies around the world and imposed in general by the global economy,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
In a telephone conversation with US secretary of state John Kerry last night, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said “sanctions introduced by the United States and the European Union are absolutely unacceptable and will not be left without consequences”.
The EU and US imposed asset freezes and visa restrictions on Russian officials earlier this week, but they were widely mocked in Moscow and dismissed by Mr Putin yesterday in a passionate Kremlin speech to deputies that was regularly interrupted by thunderous applause.
“The [Crimean] issue has a vital importance, a historic importance for all of us,” he said.
“In the hearts and minds of people, Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia. This commitment, based on truth and justice, was firm, was passed from generation to generation.”
Ukraine said one of its serviceman was shot dead yesterday by Russian troops at a base near the Crimean capital, Simferopol, in the first fatality of the crisis on the peninsula.
“The conflict is moving from a political one to a military one because of Russian soldiers,” said Ukraine’s prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
“Today, Russian soldiers began shooting at Ukrainian servicemen and this is a war crime without any expiry under a statute of limitations.”
Mr Turchynov last night issued orders allowing Ukrainian soldiers to use their weapons to defend themselves.
Mr Putin insisted Russian troops would not invade other areas of Ukraine, but Kiev has mobilised 40,000 reservists amid unrest in eastern regions.
Source: Irish Times