Venizelos urges diplomatic channels with Russia to remain open after Crimea vote

Greek Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos has called for a “diplomatic and political” solution to the dispute in Crimea after a referendum on Sunday indicated that the vast majority of its citizens want the region to join Russia.

With the European Union preparing sanctions against Russia and the EU’s high representative for foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton due to chair a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, Venizelos called for diplomatic channels to remain open.

“The common European stance is very clear,” he said. “The European policy must be a policy of principles. Our goal is, at the same time, respect for international law and the safeguarding of stability and peace. The solutions must always be political and diplomatic, and the European Union must ensure its credibility and ability to function as a basic factor for stability on the European continent.”

Greece currently holds the rotating EU presidency and Venizelos insisted that the Union had to balance its defense of international law with the need to continue negotiations with Moscow.

“Thus, our message is a message of support for international law, but, at the same time, of the need for the political and diplomatic channels to be preserved and to function.”

EU diplomats worked late into the night on Sunday, haggling over a list of people in Crimea and Russia who will be hit with travel bans and asset freezes for actions which «threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine."

The initial list of 120 to 130 names, including senior figures in Russia's military and political establishment, will be whittled down to perhaps «tens or scores» of people before EU foreign ministers take the final decision in Brussels on Monday, diplomats say.

Ministers are also expected to cancel an EU-Russia Summit scheduled to be held in Sochi in June.

Sunday's Crimea referendum has only reinforced European anger over Russia's military intervention there, despite results showing Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to break away from Ukraine and to join Russia.

An EU statement on Sunday said the referendum was illegal and illegitimate and its outcome would not be recognized.

[Kathimerini & Reuters]