British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned that Europe could face a “shooting conflict” that could last “months and months and months” if Russian forces move beyond the Crimean Peninsula and into eastern Ukraine.
There is so far no indication of Russia considering such a deployment, but pro-Russian protesters have massed in eastern border cities like Donetsk and Kharkiv, insisting they “belong with Russia.”
Hague conceded that none of the measures considered against Russia could actually force the nation to withdraw from Crimea, where a vote on secession is planned next weekend, but insisted that it didn’t mean “tacit acceptance” of Crimean independence.
Ukraine’s interim government has been playing up the idea of Russia’s involvement in Crimea being the start of a major war, and this has fueled some concern in other nations in the region.
As a practical matter, Ukraine’s own military is divided on Crimea, many have defected to the autonomous region, and there is no serious risk they will try to attack Russia. Russia likewise seems content to simply wait out the referendum in Crimea.