ATHENS, Greece - Britain's foreign secretary on Friday urged European Union partners to develop possible further sanctions against Russia "if they become necessary," while the top Russian diplomat ridiculed Ukraine's interim government as a Western puppet.
"The West has taken on a role of the master of Ukraine's fate while the country's fledging government has not shown much independence so far," Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
He blamed the crisis in Ukraine on the government's lack of respect for the citizens' rights and interests of different Ukrainian regions.
At the EU meeting in Athens, officials continued to worry about the large Russian military force on Ukraine's border.
"It is really, really important that Russia shows that it is serious about de-escalation by moving troops back," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said as she arrived for the meeting.
The EU has already imposed sanctions against Russia.
"It's very important for us to remain strong and united about the sanctions that we have implemented against individuals in Russia and Crimea, and to prepare more far-reaching measures if they become necessary," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said. No decision would be made at the two-day session in Athens, he added.
"This moment isn't the moment for phase three of sanctions, but they have to be ready," Hague said, "because the situation remains very dangerous, it remains very tense."
The crisis in Ukraine tops the agenda at the informal foreign ministers' meeting, which will also discuss Syria.
EU finance officials said earlier this week that the sanctions were already slowing the Russian economy.
Evangelos Venizelos, the Greek foreign minister, said the EU ultimately wanted a political solution to the Ukraine crisis.
"Sanctions are an instrument. (But) for us the target is always the respect of the international law," he said.
Meanwhile, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Friday that all the Ukrainian servicemen stationed in Crimea were allowed to leave for mainland Ukraine but 8,000 military men stayed and applied to join the Russian army.
Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula in March following a referendum called just two weeks after the Russian forces had overtaken the region. Ukraine and the West have rejected the vote and the annexation.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin and his officials said the Russian deployment to Crimea was within limits set by a deal with Ukraine on a Russian navy base in Crimea. But Moscow has never admitted that the thousands of troops that flooded the peninsula, seizing the airports and blocking the Ukrainian military at their bases, were Russian. They wore no markings but some of them drove APCs with Russian number plates.
Shoigu argued that Crimea faced "a threat to civilian lives and the threat of a seizure of the Russian military infrastructure by extremist organizations," so Russia "took decisive actions" and "beefed up security of Russian military infrastructure in Crimea." He stopped short of giving details, but said the military "managed to prevent bloodshed."
Shoigu dismissed claims that the Russian army has mistreated Ukrainian servicemen were "improper and provocative." Several senior Ukrainian officers including a military base commander were briefly detained by the Russian forces and kept in custody for several days.
Vasilyeva reported from Moscow. AP reporters Derek Gatopoulos in Athens and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.