EU parliament chief Schulz has called for swift action to end the Crimean crisis before a March 16 referendum. His proposal: guarantee Russia's naval bases in Crimea and put more economic pressure on Moscow to negotiate.
The president of the European Union parliament, Martin Schulz, made a series of proposals on Sunday that he said could pave the way for a diplomatic solution to end the crisis on the Crimean peninsula. In an interview with the German newspaper "Bild am Sonntag," Schulz called for an approach that would force Russia to finally negotiate with the interim government in Kyiv, which it has refused to recognize.
EU parliament President Schulz called, first, for officials to guarantee the continuance of Russia's naval operations at its base in the southern Ukraine peninsula, where its Black Sea Fleet had already been stationed before the diplomatic crisis erupted over a week ago.
However, Schulz said Russian President Vladimir Putin would have to comply with international demands to negotiate directly with Kyiv or face tougher sanctions.
"If Russia doesn't find its way to the negotiating table with Ukraine, the EU will step up sanctions against [it]," the EU parliament president told "Bild am Sonntag."
"What's happening in Crimea is a violation of human rights," he added.
Over a week ago, Moscow deployed thousands of Russian soldiers to the Crimean peninsula, which is home to a majority Russian-speaking population. President Putin has maintained that he was answering the call of Moscow supporters who feared for their safety following the downfall of Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych and the installment of a pro-EU interim government.
Western leaders led by the EU and the United States have dismissed Putin's argument as baseless. They have also accused him of violating international law by sending troops into Ukrainian territory.
According to figures published by the German news magazine Der Spiegel, NATO has estimated that at least 2,000 Russian military personnel have been sent to Crimea since the crisis began. The publication added that some NATO sources believe the number could have reached 6,000.
Window closing for Russia
The White House said that, during a telephone conference on Saturday, US President Barack Obama and the heads of Britain, France, Italy, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia had called on Russia to withdraw its military forces and to allow international observers into Crimea.
"The leaders reiterated their grave concern over Russia's clear violation of international law and reaffirmed their support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," the White House said.
Washington imposed visa bans on Russians and Ukrainians considered responsible for destabilizing Ukraine on Thursday. The EU issued a statement on the same day saying it had postponed EU-visa negotiations and that it would impose travel bans, asset freezes and cancel an EU-Russia summit if Moscow didn't yield to its demands soon.
The Crimean parliament's decision to hold a referendum on joining the Russian Federation has only worsened the diplomatic crisis with Moscow. Western leaders have deemed the move illegal and based on Russian influence, not the will of the Crimean people.
kms/tj (AFP, Reuters)