A Ukrainian sailor looks on as the Russian guided missile destroyer Bespokoynyy sails by in Sevastopol. (AFP)
Washington, March 12 (Reuters): Leaders of the Group of Seven economies told Russia yesterday to stop its work on a referendum in Ukraine’s Crimea region and “cease all efforts to change the status of Crimea” or face action.
The statement came in response to Crimea’s parliament voting to join Russia and setting a referendum for Sunday on the decision in a dramatic escalation of the crisis over the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula.
The G7 leaders said they would not recognise the outcome of the referendum, which they said “would have no legal effect”, calling it a “deeply flawed process which would have no moral force” because of the presence of Russian troops in the region.
Russian efforts to annex Crimea, a region in southern Ukrainian that is home to the Russian Black Sea fleet, would violate five different bilateral and international agreements, including the UN charter, the G7 leaders said in a statement released by the White House. It also “could have grave implications for the legal order that protects the unity and sovereignty of all states”, they said.
“Should the Russian Federation take such a step, we will take further action, individually and collectively,” the G7 statement said.
The leaders called on Russia to withdraw its forces in Crimea, begin talks with Ukraine, and allow international observers into the region.
President Barack Obama was scheduled to meet Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk at the White House . The US has said it is prepared to sanction Russia over the Crimea issue, and EU member states agreed to wording on sanctions tomorrow.
The G7 group includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, the US, the European Council and the European Commission. In 1998 it added Russia to form the G8.
Russia is scheduled to hold the next Group of Eight summit in Sochi in June but the leaders of the G7 have suspended planning for that meeting because of the crisis in Ukraine.
“We also remind the Russian Federation of our decision to suspend participation in any activities related to preparation of a G8 Sochi meeting until it changes course,” the leaders said.
Crimea has strong cultural ties to Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Russia has not been acting in Crimea but allowing local self-defence units to act spontaneously — an assertion derided as “Putin’s fiction” by Washington.
EU member states have agreed the wording of sanctions on Russia, including travel restrictions and asset freezes against those responsible for violating the sovereignty of Ukraine, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.
The seven-page document describes in detail the restrictive measures to be taken against Moscow if it does not reverse course in Crimea and begin talks with international mediators on efforts to resolve the crisis over Ukraine.
If approved by EU foreign ministers at a meeting on Monday, they would be the first sanctions imposed by the European Union against Russia since the end of the Cold War, marking a severe deterioration in East-West relations.
“Member states shall take the necessary measures to prevent the entry into, or transit through, their territories of the natural persons responsible for actions which undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine,” reads Article 1 of the document.