Russia risks new cold war: Hague
March 18, 2014 - 7:18:32 am
LONDON: Europe is on the cusp of a new cold war with Russia that could last for years, William Hague has said as he warns Russia against destabilising eastern Ukraine.
The foreign secretary was speaking on Monday as European Union ministers met to discuss the breadth of sanctions to impose against Russian and Crimean officials and other politicians involved in supporting Sunday’s referendum in Crimea.
Hague said the whole world regarded the referendum, in which the majority of Crimeans voted to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia, as illegal.
He said efforts would continue to reach a diplomatic settlement, but admitted that there was no sign that Russia wanted to de-escalate the crisis, with talks between the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, on Friday having failed.
Asked on BBC Radio 4 to describe the scale of the crisis, Hague said: “I would not describe it as a new cold war, but that will depend on the course of events over the coming days.” He said Russia had already suffered serious isolation, pointing out that it had used a lone veto on the UN security council at the weekend.
The West seems bound on an inexorable course towards deeper sanctions, although there are likely to be different views within the EU about the precise trigger for these. Some nations believe it will require further military aggression by Russia, and others a continued refusal by Russia to engage diplomatically over Crimea and the new Ukrainian government.
Speaking before he went into an EU foreign ministers’ meeting to agree the range of sanctions in the wake of the referendum, Hague said: “I am confident we will agree some sanctions — some travel bans, some asset freezes on individuals in Russia. We will continue our efforts to make a diplomatic breakthrough with Russia in the coming days”.
He denied the proposed sanctions were meaningless, arguing that they were unprecedented. But he then spoke of the seriousness of the crisis, and the absence of any diplomatic progress.
“It is certainly true there has been no sign of de-escalation or compromise on the part of Russia. I do think Russia has to think about the long-term consequences. These are measures we are taking today and for the coming months, but for years to come if Russia does not find some way to de-escalate this – to directly negotiate with Ukraine, to work with other nations – there will be important costs for Russia. There will be a speeding up by the EU to make itself less energy-dependent on Russia.”
He predicted: “There will be a real resolve across western nations, including with the US, to take wider trade, financial and economic sanctions if Russia moves into eastern Europe. We have to be very clear that annexation cannot be the way in the 21st century to conduct affairs, as opposed to negotiation and the rule of law.”
Hague stressed that even if Russia invaded the mainly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, he did not support a Nato military response.