Vladimir Putin must do more to reduce Ukraine tensions says David Cameron
British PM calls on Russian president to agree to contact group allowing direct talks between Kiev and Moscow.
David Cameron has told Vladimir Putin he must do more to reduce tensions in Ukraine as he called on the Russian president to agree to the creation of a contact group that could lead to direct talks between Kiev and Moscow.
As William Hague warned of a “great danger of a real shooting conflict” if Russian forces moved beyond Crimea to enter the main part of eastern Ukraine, the prime minister told Putin that Britain and the EU wanted to work towards a diplomatic solution.
The prime minister spoke to Putin by phone before a working dinner on Sunday night with Angela Merkel in Hanover and a tech conference on Monday. Ukraine is expected to dominate their talks after the foreign secretary warned of another “frozen conflict” in Europe.
A No 10 spokesperson said of the prime minister’s call with Putin: “The prime minister called President Putin this morning to urge him to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine and to support the formation of a contact group that could lead to direct talks between the governments of Russia and Ukraine. The PM made clear that we, along with our European and American partners, want to work with Russia to find a diplomatic solution to the situation in Ukraine, including Crimea.
“The PM emphasised that we recognise the right of all Ukrainian people to choose their future and that the elections, currently scheduled for the end of May, provide the best way to do this. The international community should work together to ensure the elections are free, fair and inclusive.
“President Putin agreed that it is in all our interests to have a stable Ukraine. He said that Russia did want to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis and that he would discuss the proposals on the contact group with Foreign Minister Lavrov tomorrow.
“The PM and President Putin also discussed the serious economic challenges facing Ukraine and agreed that the international community would need to provide financial support in the months ahead. Both leaders agreed to stay in touch on the issue in the coming days.”
David Cameron and Angela Merkel were expected to agree in talks in Hanover on Sunday night that a strict timeline needs to be drawn up to ensure that Vladimir Putin cannot use a “contact group” to drag out negotiations on the future of Ukraine.
The EU’s 28 leaders agreed at their summit on Thursday that Moscow needs to agree to a dialogue, to be established through the “contact group”, with Kiev if it is to avoid a round of sanctions. It is understood that London and Berlin fear that Putin will use his current strategy – to sound reasonable in telephone conversations while Russian forces tighten their grip on Crimea – to stall any negotiations if a “contact group” is established. Merkel and Cameron are keen to let Putin know that they are not “naive” and have clocked his strategy.
The two leaders also agree that Putin has days, rather than weeks, to sign up to the “contact group”. The unofficial deadline is Thursday next week when EU leaders are due to hold another summit. Foreign ministers will discuss the crisis a week on Monday.END NEW
The prime minister’s call came after the foreign secretary said Putin had implemented carefully prepared plans to assume control of Crimea. But Hague acknowledged none of the options on the table – diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions – would be able to remove Russian forces from the Black Sea peninsula.
Asked by the BBC’s Europe editor, Gavin Hewitt, what would happen if Russian troops went beyond the Black Sea peninsula to enter “mainland” eastern Ukraine, Hague said: “There would be far reaching trade, economic and financial consequences. It would bring the great danger of a real shooting conflict. There is no doubt about that.”
Asked whether Britain and the EU would advise the Ukrainians not to take up arms against the Russians, Hague said: “We have commended all of their restraint so far. It is not really possible to go through different scenarios with the Ukrainians and say: in these circumstances you shoot and in these you don’t. We have commended their restraint. They have not risen to any provocation from Russia.”
The warning from Hague came shortly after Ed Davey told Britain’s energy companies not to seek to make profits from the Ukraine crisis, though he acknowledged gas prices would increase if the crisis escalated. The energy secretary told the Andrew Marr Show: “We use Norwegian gas and we have a lot of gas imported on ships – liquefied natural gas. So our security of supply on gas – people shouldn’t be worried about that.
“The companies who supply gas and electricity tend to buy their gas forwardly. They buy it 18 months in advance so they shouldn’t be using it as an excuse to put up people’s prices. They hedged quite rightly. But we have seen that when this crisis broke there was a spike in oil and gas prices. They have now come down.
“But if there was an escalation, if we saw military conflict, if that conflict went on for months and months and months, there could be an impact on prices.”
Hague said he believed Putin would eventually be seen to have made a “big miscalculation” as the EU pivots away from Russia, particularly in the energy sphere. But he admitted that none of the proposed EU measures against Russia, to be introduced on a graduated basis if Moscow refuses to change tack, would remove Russian forces from Crimea.
The foreign secretary said: “None of these things force a Russian withdrawal from Crimea. That is well understood. But they will raise the cost to Russia over time.”
But Hague, who rejected next Sunday’s planned referendum in Crimea, said there was no “tacit acceptance” of the Russian occupation of Crimea. Some of the sanctions identified in the first phase of the EU’s action will be triggered if Moscow refuses to discuss the long-term future of Crimea with Ukraine.
“This is the creation of another frozen conflict in Europe like Abkhazia, that is part of Georgia, like Transnistria, that is part of Moldova. There absolutely isn’t a tacit acceptance.”
Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, said: “The priority in Ukraine must be a de-escalation and a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.
“So I welcome that the foreign secretary made this clear to the BBC this morning when he confirmed that all economic and diplomatic options should remain on the table in seeking to achieve that.
“It is also vital that the UK, along with EU allies, sets out a clear timetable for taking further economic and financial measures if Russia fails to change course in the days ahead.
“The UK should also work with the group of the worlds seven largest economies to agree to suspend Russia from the G8 if it refuses to agree a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.”