- Associated Press - Monday, March 3, 2014

KIEV — Russia issued an ultimatum Monday, demanding that the crew of two Ukrainian warships in Crimea immediately surrender or be stormed and seized, a Ukrainian military spokesman said.

Four Russian navy ships in Sevastopol harbor were blocking the Ukrainian anti-submarine warship Ternopil and the command ship Slavutych from leaving the dock, waiting for their commanders’ responses, spokesman Maksim Prauta said.

Vladimir Anikin, a Russian defense ministry spokesman in Moscow, dismissed the report of a Russian ultimatum as nonsense but refused to elaborate.

Elsewhere on the strategic peninsula, Russian troops controlled all Ukrainian border posts Monday in Crimea, as well as all military facilities and a key ferry terminal. Now, fears in Kiev and beyond were that Russia might target and seize other parts of Ukraine, in particular parts of its pro-Russian east, the country’s industrial powerhouse and agricultural breadbasket.

As diplomats met in Brussels, Kiev and Geneva, warnings about the threat posed by Russia’s military invasion were issued from a host of European capitals.

“We are in the most serious crisis for Europe since the fall of the (Berlin) Wall. Twenty-five years after the end of the conflict between east and west, there’s a real danger of a split in Europe,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Brussels.

“Anyone who follows the news can see that the escalation isn’t stopping. On the contrary, the threats from the Russian side are only getting louder,” he added.

Earlier in the day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in Geneva to attend U.N. meetings, explained the reasoning behind Russia’s military invasion of Crimea.

“This is a question of defending our citizens and compatriots, ensuring human rights, especially the right to life,” he said.

There have been no reports, however, of any hostilities toward Russian-speakers in Ukraine during the country’s four months of political upheaval.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also pressed hard Monday for Ukrainian politicians to return to the Feb. 21 agreement that promised to create a new unity government which would rule until an early election no later than December. The proposal seemed to be a non-starter for the West, however, for it would void the new government that Ukraine installed last week.

Tensions between the two former Soviet neighbors rose sharply after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was pushed out by a protest movement made up of people who wanted closer ties with the European Union, more democracy and less corruption. Yanukovych fled to Russia last month after more than 80 demonstrators were killed — mostly by police — near Kiev’s central square but insists he is still president.

In Kiev, Ukraine’s new prime minister admitted his country had “no military options on the table” to reverse Russia’s military move into its Crimea region.

While Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk appealed Monday for outside help and insisted that Crimea still remained part of his country, European foreign ministers held an emergency meeting on a joint response that could include economic sanctions against Russia.

“Any attempt of Russia to grab Crimea will have no success at all. Give us some time,” Yatsenyuk said at a news conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.

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