One final attempt to preserve Ukraine

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 14, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a last-minute bid to stave off a new chapter in the East-West crisis over Ukraine, Secretary of State John Kerry warned Russia on Thursday that it faces immediate and “very serious” sanctions if it annexes Ukraine’s strategic Crimea region.
His comments echoed those of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who hours earlier said Russia risks “massive” political and economic consequences if it refuses to soften its stance against the new government in Kiev.
The warnings from the West served as a last attempt to head off a confrontation over Crimea, which holds a vote Sunday on whether to break off from Ukraine and perhaps join Russia. The showdown has been cast as a struggle for the future of Ukraine, a country with the size and population similar to France, which is caught between its long-standing ties and traditions with Russia and more progressive and economic opportunities in the West.
Kerry was headed to London for his last meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov before the Crimea vote.
At a Senate hearing, Kerry said Moscow should expect the U.S. and European Union to take measures against it on Monday if Russia accepts and acts on a decision by Crimea to secede from Ukraine. The U.S. and EU say the vote Sunday violates Ukraine’s constitution and international law. Russia has said it will respect the results of the referendum.
Moscow has refused demands by the West to pull back troops from Crimea and respect Ukraine’s territorial boundaries.
Ukraine’s prime minister told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that Russia had carried out a “military aggression” in Crimea, and dramatically switched from English to Russian to ask Russia whether it wants war.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin gave him a direct answer: “Russia does not want war and neither do the Russians, and I’m convinced the Ukrainians don’t want that either.”
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Ukraine has had “warm and friendly relations” with Russia for decades and he is also convinced “that Russians do not want war.”
“And I hope that the Russian government and the Russian president will heed the wishes of their people and that we return urgently to dialogue and solve this conflict,” he said.
Churkin urged a return to the European-mediated plan in which Ukraine’s protest leaders and ousted President Viktor Yanukovych agreed to form a new government and hold elections.