LONDON The West has little power to bring an end to the Russian-sponsored intervention in Ukraine, Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek told Reuters on Friday, saying a change in Russia's stance was only likely to come about in the long term.
Speaking during a visit to London to meet British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Zaoralek said that Russia was clearly behind violent unrest in eastern Ukraine, but that there were no immediately effective steps the West could take to stop it.
After Russia annexed the Black Sea region of Crimea earlier this year, fighting has erupted across eastern Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russian separatists.
Russia has been accused by the West of fuelling the crisis by flexing its military muscle along the Ukrainian border and sending unofficial troops into eastern Ukraine.
"I have no doubts that Russia is responsible for the situation in Donetsk and Slaviansk," Zaoralek said in an interview over breakfast at a west London hotel. "There is no chance for us to solve this situation by power, there is no possibility to solve it in the short term."
The Czech Republic, which does not share a border with Ukraine, is a member of the NATO military alliance and was part of the first wave of eastern European states to join the European Union in 2004.
Kiev has stepped up its efforts to crush the rebellion after Ukraine elected Petro Poroshenko as president on May 25 in the country's first elections since it toppled the Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovich in February.
Yanukovich had sparked mass unrest in Ukraine by abandoning a proposed trade pact with Europe in favor of a bailout from Russia. The deal, offered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, was designed to keep Ukraine a close political ally to Moscow.
QUICK SOLUTION 'PROBABLY IMPOSSIBLE'
The United States and European Union have imposed limited sanctions on a few dozen Russian individuals and small firms but have threatened much stronger action to squeeze the Russian economy and effect a change in attitude from Moscow.
However, Zaoralek, while underlining the importance of a coordinated Western response on sanctions, was skeptical of any near-term change in Putin's stance.
"In the real world this process is going to happen over the more long term - to solve it in a few months is probably impossible," he said.
"Putin's behavior is ambiguous and probably will continue to be. On one side he is trying to show that he is ready to negotiate and make some concessions, and on the other side we see the Russians are delivering uniformed militaries to Donetsk and the Dombas (region)."
The West's best chance of securing a shift in policy from Russia is to show them that Europe is an economic partner they need to modernize their economy, Zaoralek said.
"For Russia I see no other alternative than to co-operate with Europe when we're talking about modernizing," he said. "Maybe for us this situation represents difficulties but for Russia this isolation could be a fundamental problem.
"I see no future development of Russian industry this way. That's why I can't understand this Putin decision. From the point of view of future development, it's a disaster."
(Editing by Stephen Addison)