Ukraine: 'Biggest Crisis in Europe in the 21st Century'
US and UK give full support to new government in Kiev as Russia says it is entitled to defend human rights in south and east of country
Events in Ukraine continue to keep the world on edge Monday with Russia defending its military posture in Crimea and western powers upping their threats to impose sanctions against Moscow.
In the coastal city of Odessa, reports were surfacing that Russian-aligned protesters, who reject the new government in Kiev, were protesting outside government buildings. Meanwhile Russian troops who mobilized over the weekend, along with some Ukrainian soldiers who have rejected the authority of Kiev, are reportedly in control of the Crimean peninsula. This follows on other pro-Russian clamoring in the eastern city of Kavriv on Sunday that left dozens injured after opposing marches—both for and against the takeover in Kiev—clashed.
Speaking from Kiev on Monday, British Foreign Minister William Hague described the situation in Ukraine as “the biggest crisis in Europe in the 21st century.”
While Russia tried to explain their military mobilization in the Crimea peninsula—which they say is designed to protect ethnic Russians there as well as key military installations on the Black Sea—other prominent members of the international community, including the U.S., the EU, and the UN, were reinforcing their public positions in a series of statements.
Speaking at the the 25th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his country's intentions were to protect against assaults on human rights and freedoms in the Crimea that could come from the interim government that has seized power in Kiev against those opposed to the violent ouster of President Viktor Yanukvych two weeks ago. Most of those opposed to what they call a 'coup' live in the south and east of the country, with Crimea as a particular province of concern and where Russia has deployed soldiers.
“Instead of promises to create a government of national unity [in Kiev]," said Lavrov to reporters, "'the government of winners' has been formed.”
Though he defended Russia's military presence in Crimea, he also said Russia wants to see the situation resolved through new talks. He said, “Any internal crises should be overcome by dialogue of all political forces, ethnic and confessional groups, in compliance with international obligations, first of all the obligations on international humanitarian law, the protection of human rights and ethnic minorities rights."
Also speaking from Geneva, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urged all parties to step back from harsh rhetoric and find a path to peaceably resolve the fragile situation. "It is now of utmost importance to restore calm and to de-escalate tensions immediately through dialogue," he said. "I will urge that the Russian Federation refrain from any acts and rhetoric that could further escalate the situation and instead to engage constructively and through peaceful means with Ukraine."
Hague's visit to Kiev on Monday included a meeting with Ukraine's new interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk where the U.K. government offered the newly declared government both political and financial backing. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is also now scheduled to visit Kiev in a show of American support.
Twitter continued to capture live coverage and news updates from the ground: