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Friday, March 14, 2014, 11:33
Merkel warns as Russia holds war games
By Reuters

 Merkel warns as Russia holds war games
A sailor guards a Russian navy ship in the Bay of Sevastopol on March 9, 2014. (Photo / AFP)

BERLIN/MOSCOW - Russia launched new military exercises near its border with Ukraine on Thursday.

In an unusually robust and emotional speech, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned of "catastrophe" unless Russia changes course, while a man was killed in Ukraine in fighting between rival protesters in a mainly Russian-speaking city.

At the UN Security Council, the United States circulated a draft resolution that would declare illegal Sunday's planned referendum on independence for Ukraine's Crimea region.

But Russia, one of the Security Council's five veto-wielding permanent members, made clear it opposed the draft. "Russia announced they will kill it," a senior Western diplomat told Reuters.

In Berlin, Merkel removed any suspicion she might try to avoid a confrontation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"We would not only see it, also as neighbours of Russia, as a threat. And it would not only change the European Union's relationship with Russia," she told parliament. "No, this would also cause massive damage to Russia, economically and politically."

US Secretary of State John Kerry said serious steps would be imposed on Monday by the United States and Europe if the referendum on Crimea joining Russia takes place on Sunday as planned.

Merkel, a fluent Russian speaker who grew up in communist East Germany, has emerged in recent days as a leading figure in threatening tough measures against Moscow.

Her foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said that over the weekend, European states would draw up a list of Russians who will face visa restrictions and asset freezes.

Putin declared Russia's right to invade its neighbour on March 1, as Russian troops were already seizing control of Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula with a narrow ethnic Russian majority and a Russian naval base.

Moscow has pledged to respond in kind to any Western sanctions.      But European leaders appear to be calculating that the damage to Russia would be far worse than to Europe. EU-Russian trade makes up 15 percent of Russia's economy and just 1 percent of Europe's.

The crisis over Crimea began after Yanukovich fled Kiev and pro-European politicians took charge, following three months of demonstrations.

 
 
 
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