Following a day in which uprisings in the east of Ukraine were consistently blamed on Russian interference by both leaders of the new government in Kiev and the White House, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took to the world media to deliver a message: 'It is not forces in Moscow trying to destabilize Ukraine.'
In a pointed op-ed in The Guardian on Monday, Lavrov makes his case that Russia has repeatedly called for cooperation over the crisis and that it is certain European nations and the US who are repeatedly steering leaders in Kiev towards the rocks, "needlessly whipping up tension" by employing double-standards on self-determination and betraying promises to halt Nato expansion.
Saying that foreign affairs in Ukraine cannot be treated like a "junior school" where the U.S. and E.U. can hands out punishments at will like a scolding teacher, Lavrov argues that accusations of Russia's blocking of Ukraine's relationship with the west does not "correspond to the facts" of what happened leading up to the overthrow of the previous government, nor since.
On the contrary, Russia "has done more than any other country to support the independent Ukrainian state, including for many years subsidising its economy through low energy prices." When the current series of crises began, he says, Moscow floated a series of proposals designed to compromise over the issue, but that those were repeatedly rejected by Brussels and undermined by Washington.
Russia, Lavrov continues,
steadily promoted a system of equal and indivisible security in the Euro-Atlantic area. We proposed signing a treaty to that effect, and advocated the creation of a common economic and human space from the Atlantic to the Pacific which would also be open to post-Soviet countries.
We proposed signing a treaty to that effect, and advocated the creation of a common economic and human space from the Atlantic to the Pacific which would also be open to post-Soviet countries.
In the meantime, western states, despite their repeated assurances to the contrary, have carried out successive waves of Nato enlargement, moved the alliance's military infrastructure eastward and begun to implement antimissile defence plans. The EU's Eastern Partnership programme is designed to bind the so-called focus states tightly to itself, shutting down the possibility of co-operation with Russia. Attempts by those who staged the secession of Kosovo from Serbia and of Mayotte from the Comoros to question the free will of Crimeans cannot be viewed as anything but a flagrant display of double standards. No less troubling is the pretence of not noticing that the main danger for the future of Ukraine is the spread of chaos by extremists and neo-Nazis.
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Russia is doing all it can to promote early stabilisation in Ukraine. We are firmly convinced that this can be achieved through, among other steps: real constitutional reform, which would ensure the legitimate rights of all Ukrainian regions and respond to demands from its south-eastern region to make Russian the state's second official language; firm guarantees on Ukraine's non-aligned status to be enshrined in its laws, thus ensuring its role as a connecting link in an indivisible European security architecture; and urgent measures to halt activity by illegal armed formations of the Right Sector and other ultra-nationalist groups.
Also on Monday, Lavrov had his first publicized conversation with his counterpart in the new interim Ukrainian government in Kiev.
According to the ITAR-TASS news service, Lavrov had a phone conversation with Ukraine’s acting Foreign Minister Andrei Deshchitsa in which “reiterated Russia’s position on how to resolve the political crisis in Ukraine and called on the incumbent authorities to take urgent measures to organize a national dialogue with all political forces and regions in Ukraine and carry out a deep constitutional reform, taking into account their interests, and reaffirmed Russia’s readiness to support this process together with the European Union and the United States."
In Washington, meanwhile, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that the Obama administration's position continued to be that Moscow was meddling in internal Ukrainian affairs and even accused Russian forces of masterminding the growing popular revolt in the eastern cities of the country. Citing unsourced intelligence, Carney suggested that protesters on the streets in eastern cities had been paid for their participation and said, "I think that at least suggests that outside forces, not local forces, were participating on the effort to create these provocations."
Those comments mirror those coming from Kiev.
And State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki also confirmed on Monday that Secretary of State John Kerry had spoken with Lavrov by phone. During that call, according to Psaki, Kerry demanded that "Russia to publicly disavow the activities of separatists, saboteurs and provocateurs" he said were operating in Ukraine.
Though Psaki indicated that Lavrov and Kerry had agreed that direct talks between Ukraine, the EU, the U.S., and Russia should take place to ease tensions—and that those talks could take place within ten days time—she and Carney both said that the U.S. would push for further sanctions against Russia if they felt it warranted.