UPDATE: Putin has reportedly backed away from the Russian deadline set earlier for 2 Ukrainian warships to vacate the Crimean Peninsula.
EARLIER: A Russian deadline for 5 AM local time had been issued for 2 Ukrainian warships in the disputed Crimea Peninsula to surrender or face “a real assault,” according to a statement from a Navy commander.
“If they do not surrender before 5 AM tomorrow, a real assault will be started against units and divisions of the armed forces across Crimea,” Russia’s Black Sea Fleet Commander Alexander Vitko told the Interfax news agency Monday, Sky News reports.
Both Reuters and the Associated Press also reported the events, though the defense ministry didn’t immediately confirm the ultimatum. The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to hold a meeting this afternoon to address the crisis.
The threat came mere hours after Ukraine’s new leaders called for Western nations to rally against Russia’s invasion of the country’s Crimean Peninsula, making a plea for economic and political support as Moscow continues to defy both the U.S. and the West.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk insisted that Crimea remains Ukrainian territory, even as thousands of Russian troops seized control over the region without suffering any casualties or even firing a shot.
“Any attempt of Russia to grab Crimea will have no success at all. Give us some time,” he said at a news conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who is visiting Kiev.
“For today, no military options [are] on the table,” he said, adding that what they urgently need is an economic and political support.
“Real support. Tangible support. And we do believe that our Western partners will provide this support,” he said.
Hague said on the BBC that Moscow would face “significant costs” for taking control of Crimea. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will follow Hague’s visit to Kiev, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday nevertheless justified the use of Russian troops in Crimea as a necessary protection for his country’s citizens living there.
The use of Russian troops is necessary “until the normalization of the political situation” in Ukraine, Lavrov said at an opening of a month-long session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“We are talking here about protection of our citizens and compatriots, about protection of the most fundamental of the human rights — the right to live, and nothing more,” Lavrov said. He had harsh words for U.S. and European officials, who have made clear that military force is off of the table, yet are moving to push for economic measures.
“Those who are trying to interpret the situation as a sort of aggression and threatening us with sanctions and boycotts, these are the same partners who have been consistently and vigorously encouraging the political powers close to them to declare ultimatums and renounce dialogue,” Lavrov said. “We call upon them to show a responsibility and to set aside geopolitical calculations and put the interests of the Ukrainian people above all.”
Lavrov will meet later Monday with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to discuss the Ukraine crisis, but markets may not wait for officials to hatch out any plans.
The uncertainty of the situation sent global stocks tumbling on Monday, pushing European Union foreign ministers are working on a joint response to Russia’s military incursion that could include economic sanctions.
The 28 foreign ministers are holding an emergency meeting on Ukraine Monday to discuss what Germany’s foreign minister, Frank Walter Steinmeier, called “Europe’s most dramatic crisis” since the end of the Cold War.
On Sunday, a senior Obama administration official told reporters that Russia had taken “complete operational control of the Crimean peninsula, some 6,000-plus airborne and naval forces, with considerable materiel [equipment].
“There is no question,” the official continued, “that they are in an occupation position in Crimea, that they are flying in reinforcements, and they are settling in.”
Russia has long wanted to reclaim the lush Crimean Peninsula, part of its territory until 1954. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet pays Ukraine millions annually to be stationed at the Crimean port of Sevastopol and nearly 60 percent of Crimea’s residents identify themselves as Russian.