Putin: calls for talks make me smile
Russian president mocks Western diplomacy over Ukraine
Vladimir Putin has teased the West over its diplomatic efforts to end the Ukraine crisis, saying Barack Obama’s call for talks between the Kremlin and Kiev “puts a smile” on his face.
Speaking through his official spokesman, the Russian president said that despite rising tensions, he does not want the Crimea issue to start a “new cold war”.
Earlier, Russia’s state-owned energy company Gazprom announced it would reduce deliveries to Kiev, a move that would disrupt gas supplies to Europe. Gazprom claimed Ukraine has failed to make payments on its £1.2bn debt. “We can’t supply gas for free,” said a spokesman.
Energy experts are warning that Russia has the power to wreak havoc in markets across Europe. “Europe still relies heavily – in some cases 100 per cent – on Russian gas,” said former energy secretary Lord Howell.
Meanwhile, Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has warned the US not to take "hasty and reckless steps" over the crisis. In a phone call with his US counterpart John Kerry, Lavrov said imposing sanctions on Moscow would “inevitably have a boomerang effect against the US itself”.
Pro-Russian troops have been in control of Crimea for the last week. The Pentagon estimates that 20,000 Russian troops may now be in Crimea, while the Ukrainian border guards' commander puts the figure at 30,000.
Crimea's parliament announced on Thursday it will hold a referendum on 16 March on whether to join Russia or remain part of Ukraine.