Russia faces “significant diplomatic and economic costs” unless it stops threatening the integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, the UK foreign secretary, William Hague, has warned, adding that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, needs to return his forces to their barracks in Crimea.
Speaking on the BBC Today programme, he also urged Russia and Ukraine to start a direct dialogue, warning that Russian intervention represents “certainly the biggest crisis in Europe in the 21st century”.
Hague was speaking from Kiev, where he was meeting Ukrainian leaders in an act of solidarity before attending a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
He urged restraint on all sides, saying there were constant risks of miscalculation or a flashpoint. He commended the Ukrainian authorities for “refusing to rise to provocation” and urged them “to stick to that course”.
Hague was reluctant to detail the economic sanctions Russia may face, but diplomatic sources pointed out that the Russian economy is more integrated with the west than during the cold war and may suffer reverses on the Russian stock exchange.
David Cameron will chair a special meeting of the National Security Council on Monday to discuss the crisis in Ukraine.
Russian shares were tumbling in Moscow by more than 11% at the time Hague was meeting the new Ukrainian leadership in Kiev. He stressed he could not foresee a satisfactory outcome that left Crimea annexed once again by Russia.
He added: “Be in no doubt, there will be consequences. The world cannot say it is OK to violate the sovereignty of other nations.” The costs would be imposed unless the Russians respect the sovereignty of Ukraine, he said.
“This clearly is a violation of the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine. If Russia continues on this course we have to be clear this is not an acceptable way to conduct international relations.”
Hague denied that western condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine was weakened by the allied invasion of Iraq in 2003, saying Ukraine had never represented a threat to Russia or any other nation. Hague claimed the truth was that Putin had “suffered a major diplomatic reverse and was reacting to that”.
He suggested the temporary suspension of preparations for the G8 summit due to be hosted by Putin in Sochi in June might become permanent, although the Germans are reluctant to close down one of the chief vehicles of dialogue between Russia and the west.
Hague said the G7 ( the main western economic nations) were entirely capable of co-operating among themselves without Russia and would move speedily in that direction if this crisis could not be resolved.
Hague said he always recognised the relationship between Ukraine and Russia, but at the same time the country could have closer links than at present with the EU.
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