Germany calls for urgent EU meeting on Ukraine
Germany’s foreign minister has said European states need to “gather quickly” to formulate a joint position on the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a statement on Saturday (1 March): "We are in close consultations with our partners. From my point of view, us Europeans need to gather quickly in order to agree on a joint EU position.”
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Amid reports that Russian troops are pouring into Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, he urged the Kremlin to show "immediate and total transparency" on military movements and on its "goals and intentions."
"Everything that Russia does in Crimea must be in complete accord with the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” he noted.
"The developments in the past few hours in Ukraine are dangerous … An increased confrontation helps no one. There is still time for the ones politically responsible to turn the situation around from possibly inconceivable consequences,” he added.
The Polish FM, Radek Sikorski, the same day cut short his trip to Iran citing the Ukraine situation.
But the EU foreign service declined to confirm or deny to EUobserver whether it will call a snap foreign ministers’ meeting.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso also urged Russia to stay out of Ukraine.
Merkel had phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin and the new leaders of Ukraine to convey her "great concern" over the developments and to underline the need to "preserve the territorial integrity" of the EU's eastern neighbour.
"We have learned from our history how important it is to solve conflicts peacefully and this should also apply to Ukraine," she said.
Barroso noted: "We were struck by reports of violations of Ukraine's territorial integrity in Crimea. These are events that would be considered unthinkable in the 21st century.”
He said the "international community" will not stand by while regional and international peace is threatened.
The European warnings echo a statement by US President Barack Obama on Friday, who said “there will be costs” if the Russian military intervenes in Ukraine.
But Moscow is defiant.
Putin on Saturday got unanimous approval from the Russian senate, a rubber-stamp body, to send in soldiers "until the normalisation of the political situation in [Ukraine]."
The Kremlin says he submitted the request "in connection with the extraordinary situation in Ukraine and the threat to the lives of Russian citizens."
Newly-installed pro-Russian authorities in Crimea have asked for Russian military help.
The Russian foreign ministry earlier on Saturday accused “prominent political circles in Kiev” of ordering an assault on a regional government building in Simferopol, the Crimean capital.
“In the night to 1 March, unidentified armed people, who were sent from Kiev, undertook an attempt to seize the building of the ministry of the interior. As a result of the treacherous provocation, there were casualties,” the Russian ministry said.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Aresnyi Yatsenyuk rejected the claims.
"We are taking no steps that could provoke a violent confrontation … All responsibility for the escalation of the conflict lies personally at the leadership of the Russian Federation,” he said.
Pro-Russian protests also flared up on Saturday in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking eastern cities of Donetsk and Kharkiv, where events turned violent and protesters hoisted the Russian flag on public buildings.
Barroso in Berlin praised Yatsenyuk for repealing a law to downgrade the official status of minority languages in the country, including Russian.
The law had been passed immediately after the fall of Ukraine’s Russophone former president Viktor Yanukovych, who is in exile in Russia, last week.