World Bulletin/News Desk
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Tuesday that sanctions against Russia over Ukraine could be imposed as early as this week if Moscow failed to respond positively to a proposition designed to calm the crisis.
Fabius told radio station France Inter that a referendum in the Crimea region on joining Russia set for March 16 was illegitimate and that the annexation of the region by Russia would be illegal.
"We cannot accept something that is illegal and which will also have very serious consequences," Fabius said.
The minister said the "only legitimate vote" was that for the president of Ukraine on May 25.
Fabius said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had sent a proposition to Moscow in an effort to calm the situation.
"If they respond positively, John Kerry will go to Moscow, and in that case the sanctions won't be immediate," Fabius said. "If they don't respond, or if they respond negatively, in that case there are a series of sanctions that can be taken as early as this week."
Fabius said these could include freezing the assets of individual Russians or Ukrainians, as well as sanctions relating to travel visas.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also said on Tuesday the European Union would rather avoid confrontation with Russia over its incursion into Ukrainian territory in Crimea but would have to prepare an EU response if Moscow doesn't back down.
"If the weekend passes without a visible change in Russia's conduct, then on Monday in the European Council we will have to discuss a next stage of measures," he said on a visit to the Baltic states, all EU members who are worried about Ukraine.
"We don't want confrontation but the action of the Russian side unfortunately makes it necessary for us to prepare, as I have just outlined to you," Steinmeier told reporters in the Estonian capital Tallinn.
A pro-Russian force opened fire in seizing a Ukrainian military base in Crimea on Monday and NATO announced reconnaissance flights along its eastern frontiers as confrontation around the Black Sea peninsula showed no sign of easing.Last Mod: 11 Mart 2014, 10:34