UK Politics

William Hague: Russia faces 'isolation' over Ukraine

Armed men, thought to be Russian servicemen, in Belbek, Crimea Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Russian troops have stormed a military airbase in Belbek, Crimea

William Hague has warned Russia that it faces long-term "isolation and stagnation" over the crisis in Ukraine.

The foreign secretary said it was time to consider a "new state of relations" different to that of the past 20 years.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, he said the UK and its European allies would not "run scared".

His comments came amid continuing tensions, with Russian troops taking control of one of the last big military bases in Crimea from the Ukrainians.

At least one person was injured in the assault on Belbek air base, near Sevastopol, according to reports. It is now said to be under Russian control.

The Ukrainian region was formally annexed by Russia on Friday.

In other developments:

  • Several hundred unarmed protesters seized a Ukrainian naval base at Novofedorivka, western Crimea
  • Ukraine's warship Slavutych was seized by Crimean "self-defence" units and Russian troops following a two-hour assault in Sevastopol, a Ukrainian defence spokesman said

'Outrageous land grab'

Mr Hague accused Russia of "bullying" behaviour, which belongs to "a wholly different era".

This could include Russia being outside some international organisations and having less influence over the rest of Europe, he said.

"The illegal annexation of Crimea is an outrageous land grab, and the referendum that preceded it was a mockery of democracy," wrote Mr Hague.

"Russia has invaded a fellow European nation, and used force to change its borders.

"This is the most serious risk to European security we have seen so far in the 21st Century.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Pro-Russian rallies have been taking place in Ukraine
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Russian flags are waved in front of Ukrainian riot policemen during a protest in the eastern city of Donetsk
Image copyright AP
Image caption Two men hoisted a Russian flag on a military vehicle after a base in Novofedorivka, Crimea, was stormed

"Vital principles are at stake, including the territorial integrity of European nations and the right of democratic countries to choose their own future."

Russian troops have taken over control of Crimea following last month's overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

The Kremlin said it acted to protect its "compatriots" in Crimea from "fascists" moving in from mainland Ukraine.

Kiev denies the claim, accusing Moscow of "blatant lies" to justify the land grab.

Earlier this week, Mr Hague announced the UK was suspending all arms export licences and military co-operation with Moscow after President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty absorbing Crimea into Russia.

Moscow has said it is protecting the rights of Russian-speaking people in Crimea following the change in government in Ukraine last month and after a referendum recorded 96% support for the region to join Russia.

Sanctions on Russia are not intended to punish its people, but send a message to its leaders, Mr Hague said in the Telegraph.

He added that the European Commission was working on more far-reaching economic measures that could be imposed.

'Lasting restrictions'

Mr Hague urged Russia to make efforts to resolve the dispute in a peaceful manner, writing: "We have never given up on diplomacy or sought a path of permanent confrontation with Russia.

"But nor should European nations run scared before bullying behaviour.

"Despite our preference and our work to improve relations with Russia this means, sadly, that we and our allies must be prepared to contemplate a new state of relations with Russia that is very different to the last 20 years.

"This would involve Russia being outside some international organisations, facing lasting restrictions on military co-operation and arms sales, and having less influence over the rest of Europe."

He said that Russia stood to lose "a great deal over time" and that it had badly damaged its reputation as well as alienating "the great majority of Ukrainians".

This could lead to Russia's role in world affairs turning to "isolation and stagnation", the foreign secretary wrote.

Mr Hague added: "Accelerating energy diversity in Europe may have to be part of our answer to recent events."

'Greater energy security'

Using a broader mix of energy, including controversial fracking schemes, could be one of the methods used to reduce Russia's power, according to Mr Hague.

Image copyright Airteamimages
Image caption The UK's E-3D Sentry aircraft have been patrolling the Polish and Romanian borders with Ukraine

He said ideas were being discussed in Europe about how to "build greater energy security".

"If necessary, we should be prepared to diversify future sources of natural gas supplies to Europe, including through the Southern Corridor," he wrote.

"We would need to boost investment in gas interconnections and terminals in Europe, and develop indigenous European energy supplies for countries wishing to develop their own resources, such as shale gas.

"And it would mean helping Ukraine and neighbourhood countries to liberalise their energy markets, increase energy efficiency and ensure more resilient energy supplies.

"Russia's actions in Ukraine should make it much more likely that the European Union takes such decisions."

Mr Hague's warning comes as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office extended its travel warnings in eastern Ukraine. It is now advising against all but essential travel to the regions of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Lugansk due to increased tensions.