Ukraine tensions soar as Russia ‘issues Crimea ultimatum’

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Viktor Yanukovych
Viktor Yanukovych

Kiev, Mar 3 (AFP) : Ukraine accused Russia today of pouring more troops into Crimea and giving its forces an ultimatum to surrender as world leaders grappled with Europe’s worst standoff since the Cold War.

Russia’s Black Sea Fleet swiftly denied any such demand as “nonsense” and the country’s parliament speaker said there was no need yet for Moscow to use its “right” to launch military action in Ukraine.

But world markets plunged and oil prices spiked on fears of an all-out offensive that would pit nuclear-armed Russia against its neighbour of 46 million whose new team of untested leaders has strong Western support.

“The ultimatum is to recognise the new Crimean authorities, lay down our weapons and leave, or be ready for an assault,” regional Ukrainian defence ministry spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov told AFP in the Crimean capital Simferopol.

“It may be at 1:00 am, 2:00 am, 3:00 am (tomorrow).

There are different times,” he said.

But a spokesman for the fleet based in Crimea told the Interfax news agency the claim was “complete nonsense”.

“We are used to daily accusations about using force against our Ukrainian colleagues,” the unnamed spokesman said.

“Efforts to make us clash won’t work.”

Crimea — the strategic host to tsarist and Kremlin navies since the 18th century — has been under de facto occupation by Moscow-backed forces who have raised Russian flag over government buildings and blocked Ukrainians troops inside their barracks across the peninsula.

Russian senators on Saturday gave President Vladimir Putin the authorisation to use force against an ex-Soviet neighbour for the first time since a brief 2008 conflict with Georgia, a move Ukraine said was tantamount to a declaration of war.

World leaders were holding a series of urgent meetings and telephone conversations to try to prevent a conflict and also to help Ukraine avert a possible catastrophic debt default.

The UN Security Council will hold the latest in a series of emergency meetings on the standoff at 2030 GMT at Russia’s request, while EU leaders plan a summit on Thursday.

The European Union — seeking to overcome differences on how to respond to the escalating crisis on its eastern edge — warned Russia that ties with the 28-member bloc were at risk without a “de-escalation”.

Hawkish ex-Soviet satellites are pushing hard for sanctions but others — including heavyweights France and Germany — called for soft diplomacy.

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