KIEV (Reuters) - The West has come a long way in backing Ukraine in its confrontation with Russia over Moscow’s takeover of the Crimea peninsula and is certain to provide further support, Ukraine’s foreign minister said on Wednesday.
Andriy Deshchytsya told Reuters Russia was “buying time” by hindering efforts to dispatch international monitors to Crimea and would encounter growing difficulty because of international disapproval.
Russia and the West have dug in for a long confrontation over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, with the United States and Europe groping for ways to increase pressure on a defiant Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Deshchytsya took office as part of a pro-Western government when Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovich was removed last month after three months of sometimes violent protests against his abandonment of a trade agreement with the European Union.
Ukraine, Deshchytsya said, had had few friends while Yanukovich was in office, but that had changed.
“If you look from the perspective of what we had a few months ago and what we have now and what we might have in the future, I can say that these actions from the European Union and other partners are a very concrete step forward,” he said in English at his ministry’s grandiose Soviet-era building.
“...For some time there were only declarations or statements about the concerns, deep concerns, deeper, deeper concerns ... It’s now moved from the level of statements to the level of actions.”
Calling the West’s position “common and solid”, Deshchytsya said: “I believe these countries will not stop at this level of support.
“It very much depends on how Russia will deal with the isolation that it is putting itself in. So I think these sanctions are only the first practical step forward, but not the last one.”
The United States and European Union imposed visa bans and asset freezes on Russian and Ukrainian officials this week after Crimea voted in a referendum to join Russia following the military takeover of the region. Russia said the punitive measures provoked “sarcasm and irony”.
Some Western politicians have dismissed the measures as insufficient. U.S. Senator Bob McCain said after a visit to Kiev that Washington should supply weapons to Ukraine if it wanted them and British lawmaker Malcolm Rifkind called for tough financial penalties on Moscow.
Deshchytsya said Ukraine would this week sign the political part of an association agreement with the EU, the accord rejected last November by Yanukovich.
He also said talks this week with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would focus on a proposal to “demilitarize” Crimea by the withdrawal of all troops, Russian and Ukrainian.
Also under discussion would be prospects for dispatching monitors to Ukraine, particularly to Crimea and to Ukraine’s eastern regions, home to large numbers of Russian-speakers.
Clashes have erupted in eastern cities between rival pro-Russian and pro-European demonstrators. Ukrainian authorities blame the violence on “Kremlin agents”.
Deshchytsya said Russia had blocked attempts to send in observers, objecting to the wording of proposed agreements.
“We understand that they are buying time,” said. “They do not want these monitors to be deployed in Ukraine. Because then there will be an international presence on the ground and secondly, these monitors will collect proof of the Russian presence.”
He added: “I believe we will have Crimea without Russian troops.” The Russians “will be talking not to us. They will be talking to the world, which is much stronger than Ukraine.”
Editing by Ruth Pitchford