, Moscow, March 11 – Russia has refused to budge from its seemingly imminent annexation of Crimea, defying Western pressure at the UN Security Council, as Ukraine’s ousted president prepared to make his first public appearance in more than a week Tuesday.
As Kremlin backed forces tightened their grip on Crimea, Russia rebuffed pressure from Western members of the Security Council on Monday to change course on a secession referendum in the strategic peninsula.
At a Security Council meeting that France’s UN ambassador described as “a call to Russia not to go down this road”, Western countries’ pleas to cancel the Sunday referendum called by Crimea’s self-appointed leaders to decide whether the peninsula should join Russia fell on deaf ears, diplomats said.
“The Russians are not showing any sign that they are listening to us,” said the French envoy, Gerard Araud, warning the crisis was worsening by the day.
British UN envoy Mark Lyall Grant said there had been no “softening of Russia’s position” despite widespread consensus the referendum was illegal.
“It is clear that a free and fair referendum cannot be organised when Crimea is controlled by Russian troops,” he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threat to invade Ukraine after a wave of deadly protests toppled a pro-Kremlin regime last month has set off the most explosive crisis in East-West relations since the Cold War.
US President Barack Obama and his European allies are urging Russia to call its troops in Crimea back to their barracks and launch immediate negotiations with the new Ukrainian leadership, which Putin claims took power in an “unconstitutional coup”.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Putin in a televised meeting Monday that proposals he had received from US Secretary of State John Kerry “do not suit us very much” and were “framed as if there exists a conflict between Russia and Ukraine”.
In a surprise move, he said Russia had prepared its own solution to the crisis, but did not say when it would be unveiled.
Lavrov said Washington was basing its diplomacy on a recognition of Ukraine’s new leaders but that Russia still considered the ousted Viktor Yanukovych the legitimate president.
Yanukovych, who fled Ukraine as three months of protests against him turned increasingly bloody, was due to give a statement Tuesday in Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia, his first public appearance since a feisty press conference on February 28 at which he insisted he was still Ukraine’s president.
– Putin backs Crimea referendum –
Putin added new urgency to the standoff Sunday by saying he fully backed the actions being taken by Crimea’s new rulers in power since an end of February seizure of the government by pro-Kremlin gunmen.
The Kremlin said Putin stressed “the steps undertaken by the legitimate authorities of Crimea are based on the norms of international law” a comment strongly hinting that Moscow was ready to annex Crimea after handing the peninsula to Ukraine as a “gift” in 1954, when it was part of the Soviet Union.