Ukraine envoy in Geneva warns of Russian attack
Jonathan Fowler/AFP · 20 Mar 2014, 18:30
Published: 20 Mar 2014 18:30 GMT+01:00
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"There are indications that Russia is braced to unleash a full-blown intervention on Ukraine's east and south," said Yurii Klymenko, Kiev's ambassador.
"Ukraine is on the highest alert to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity by all means," he told reporters, adding that Kiev still hoped that the UN could stem the crisis and had repeatedly called for talks.
The march by Russian troops and pro-Kremlin militias across Crimea, a mostly Russian-speaking peninsula, has been unhalting since President Vladimir Putin reserved the right to use force against his ex-Soviet neighbour following the February 22nd fall of its Moscow-backed leader.
After Moscow's annexation of Crimea, Kiev's new leaders and their Western allies fear that Putin has his sights on the Russified southeastern swathes of Ukraine.
The Kremlin says it needs to "protect" Russian-speakers beyond its borders, something Klymenko rejected.
"Russia is just exploiting this issue of national minorities in order to invade," he said, adding that Ukraine had no quarrel with Russian-speakers or the people of Russia.
"The facts indicate that Crimea is not the only region of Ukraine that could be an object of Russian invasion," he said.
Klymenko said a Russian military build-up in Kherson, a Ukrainian province just north of Crimea, indicated a planned onslaught, and also cited allegations that Russians were laying landmines in the area.
He said Russian citizens had taken part in attacks on administrative buildings in eastern Ukraine, while Ukrainian authorities had detained individuals with Russian security service IDs who had come to lend support to hardline separatists.
"Ukraine and the Ukrainian people are ready to protect their homeland by all means necessary," Klymenko said, though "at this stage we are committed to a peaceful solution."
In Crimea, Kiev initially ordered its troops not to use their weapons against pro-Russian adversaries, but later said they could fire back if attacked.
"The use of the right to self-defence would be the last resort for Ukraine," Klymenko said.
Klymenko said that with Moscow ripping up the post-Soviet security guarantees it helped to create in the 1990s, the situation was "very dangerous for the whole international community."
He raised the spectre of further Kremlin strong-arming, pointing to tensions with Moldova and Estonia.