— Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk appealed to the U.N. Security Council Thursday for its support to help stop Russia from annexing its Crimea region in a referendum planned for Sunday.
Yatsenyuk told the U.N.’s most powerful organ that his country is facing the military aggression of one of the council’s permanent members – Russia.
“This aggression has no reasons and no grounds. This 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.
Yatsenyuk said despite Russia’s violation of a number of treaties, Ukraine still believes there is a chance to resolve the dispute peacefully and avoid the secession and annexation of Crimea this Sunday.
Speaking in Russian he addressed Moscow’s ambassador, asking him if Russia wants war saying, “We are looking for an answer to the question whether Russians want war. I am sure as prime minister of Ukraine -- which for decades had warm and friendly relations with Russia -- I am convinced that Russians do not want war.”
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin replied to Mr. Yatsenyuk during his remarks saying “Russia does not want war and nor do the Russians. And I am convinced that Ukrainians don’t want this either. And furthermore, this is something I want to underscore, we do not see any premises to view and interpret the situation in such terms. We don’t want any further exacerbation of the situation,” said Churkin.
Russia’s international isolation was evident, with even its closest ally, China, having taken a firm stance in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and asserting its policy of non-interference in another state’s domestic affairs.
Earlier Thursday, the U.S. delegation circulated a draft resolution reaffirming the principles of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence and that states that Sunday’s referendum is illegal, and urges nations to not recognize the results. The draft text does not name Russia as an aggressor nor explicitly demand it pull its troops back from Crimea.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said her Russian counterpart’s remarks seemed to be about validating the referendum and annexation of Crimea.
“This causes us great alarm, which is one of the reasons that we have circulated this resolution, in the hopes of finding a vehicle for showing the extent of Russia’s isolation as it pursues a non-peaceful path,” said Power.
Diplomats said they expect a Russian veto, but if Moscow’s close ally, China abstains, it would demonstrate Russia’s extensive international isolation. Several diplomats said they favored holding a vote by Saturday.
Prime Minister Yatsenyuk also met with U.N. Chief Ban Ki-moon Thursday. Mr. Ban has repeatedly called on all parties to deescalate the situation and find a solution through political dialogue.
Earlier in the day Secretary of State John Kerry told a congressional hearing the United States and the European Union will respond on Monday with a "serious series of steps" against Russia if a referendum on Ukraine's Crimea region goes ahead on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday.
Kerry told a congressional hearing he hoped to avoid such steps, which include sanctions, through discussions with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in London on Friday.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Kerry discussed proposals for resolving the crisis in Ukraine during a telephone conversation on Thursday.
Lavrov and Kerry, who are due to meet in London on Friday, discussed "the situation in Ukraine, taking into account existing Russian and U.S. proposals to normalize the atmosphere and provide for civil peace,'' the ministry said.
Germany warns Russia
Earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Russia risks "massive" political and economic damage if it does not change course in the Ukraine crisis.
In a speech to the German parliament Thursday, Merkel said Ukraine's territorial integrity is "not up for discussion."
She also said the European Union will impose sanctions on Russia if it does not move to set up a contact group to discuss the Crimea crisis.
Commenting on possible ways out of the crisis, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that there was "hardly any hope" for a diplomatic solution at this point if the referendum goes forward, the German news agency DPA quoted him as saying.
He described the planned meeting between Kerry and Lavrov on Friday as "possibly the last chance."
An armed man, believed to be a Russian serviceman, stands guard outside an Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye, near the Crimean city of Simferopol, March 13, 2014.
A Ukrainian serviceman closes a gate as an armed man, believed to be a Russian serviceman, stands guard outside an Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye, near the Crimean city of Simferopol March 13, 2014.
A woman walks past a barricade as a Ukrainian flag flutters in the wind in Kyiv's Independence Square, March 13, 2014.
People talk about developments in Ukraine at a central square next to a statue of Soviet revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin in Donetsk, Ukraine, March 12, 2014.
A woman passes by posters in support of Ukraine during the International poster campaign, Kyiv, March, 12, 2014.
People talk in Independence Square, Kyiv, March, 12, 2014.
A woman holds a dog sporting shoes and a ribbon in the colors of the Russian flag outside the regional parliament building in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine, March 12, 2014.
A member of a self-defense volunteer group, with makeshift shin guards bearing a picture of a wolf, polishes his boots in Kyiv's Independence Square, March 11, 2014.
Members of a Crimean self-defense unit check the passport of a passenger at the railway station in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine, March 11, 2014.
About-face on monitors?
Russia has for the first time backed deployment of an OSCE monitoring mission in Ukraine, including Crimea, the chairman of the European rights and security watchdog said on Thursday, calling this a possible “big step forward.”
”The Russian Federation supported the idea of a rapid approval and rapid deployment of a special monitoring mission for Ukraine,” Thomas Greminger, Switzerland's ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, told reporters after a meeting of OSCE envoys in Vienna.
”This is clearly a positive development,” Greminger said. But a number of issues remained to be clarified in negotiations between the OSCE's 57 member states, he said.
Switzerland, which currently chairs the OSCE, has proposed sending a mission of about 100 monitors to Ukraine to look into human rights, ethnic issues, security and other factors to help defuse the crisis in the country.
Such a mission would require consensus among all members, giving Russia veto power.
Recent attempts by OSCE monitors to enter Crimea had been blocked by uniformed armed men, presumed to have been Russian soldiers.
Russian stocks slump
The Russian stock market hit a four-and-a-half-year low on Thursday and is down 20 percent since mid-February. The cost of insuring Moscow's debt against default rose to its highest level in nearly two years and is up by more than a third this month.
The crisis has already forced several Russian firms to put plans on hold for public offerings to raise cash abroad.
Yet none of that appears to have slowed down President Vladimir Putin, who told officials of the Paralympic Games he is hosting in Sochi that Russia was "not the initiator" of the crisis.
Some reporting by Reuters