Ukraine crisis: Hague condemns Russian 'recognition' of Crimea

European foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday The EU has urged Russia to "de-escalate" the situation in Crimea

Foreign Secretary William Hague has insisted Crimea is still part of Ukraine after Moscow signed a decree recognising it as a sovereign state.

Mr Hague said Russia was "paving the way" for the annexation of Crimea in violation of international law.

The international community says it will not recognise Sunday's referendum on Crimea's future, in which there was a 96% vote in favour of joining Russia.

The EU earlier announced travel bans and asset freezes on Russian officials.

The US has also imposed sanctions on key figures close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, as tensions between Moscow and Washington intensified.

'Latest escalation'

In a statement on Monday evening, Mr Hague reiterated the EU's view that the referendum was neither "legal nor legitimate".

"The UK condemns in the strongest terms Russia's flagrant disregard of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," he said. "For the UK and her allies the Crimea remains part of Ukraine.

"We are witnessing a clear attempt to pave the way for the annexation of part of the sovereign territory of an independent European state, through military force and an illegal and illegitimate referendum."

Russia must refrain from further "unilateral and provocative actions", he added, and begin a dialogue with Ukraine on a diplomatic solution.

"Continuing to ignore those calls will bring serious consequences for Russia," he added. "We will urgently consider our response to this latest escalation with our allies and partners, including at the European Council this week."

'Not set in stone'

Earlier, Mr Hague said the decision to impose travel bans and asset freezes on Russian officials showed the EU's "resolve" over the situation and warned of further steps, including reducing the gas it bought from Russia.

In total, 21 individuals are to have their assets across the EU frozen and to be banned from entering any of its member states.

Those affected are not just pro-Russian officials in Crimea but high-ranking officials in Russia, including parliamentarians and military officials. More names could be added to the list, Mr Hague insisted, and the scope for future sanctions would depend on Russia's actions in the coming weeks.

"This is not a list that is set in stone for the future," he said.

The EU, he added, had also begun discussions about longer-term actions to isolate Russia, including reducing the amount of gas it buys from Moscow, which alone supplies a third of Germany's gas.

"These things will be among the biggest costs to Russia if we make no diplomatic progress," he said.

"The UK condemns in the strongest terms Russia's flagrant disregard of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. For the UK and her allies the Crimea remains part of Ukraine.

"We are witnessing a clear attempt to pave the way for the annexation of part of the sovereign territory of an independent European state, through military force and an illegal and illegitimate referendum.

"The UK calls again on Russia to enter into dialogue with Ukraine and with the international community to resolve this crisis through diplomacy and in accordance with international law, not to exacerbate it further through unilateral and provocative actions.

"Continuing to ignore those calls will bring serious consequences for Russia. We will urgently consider our response to this latest escalation with our allies and partners, including at the European Council this week."

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