Ukraine crisis 'created artificially' - Russia's Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: "This crisis was not created by us"

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said the crisis in Ukraine was "created artificially for purely geopolitical reasons".

He confirmed Russia had contacts with Ukraine's interim government but said Kiev was beholden to the radical right.

Russia, he said, was open to further dialogue with the West if it was "honest and partner-like".

Meanwhile, Russia's deputy foreign minister has held talks with Ukraine's ambassador in Moscow.

The foreign ministry gave no details but said the talks on Saturday between deputy minister Grigory Karasin and ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko were held in an "open atmosphere".

Earlier, Ukraine's interim Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya said he saw hopeful signs Russia might engage in talks.

In related developments:

  • Russian news agencies carried a statement from a defence ministry official saying that Moscow was considering halting foreign inspections of its strategic weapons arsenal - designated under international arms control treaties - as a result of US and Nato responses to the Ukraine crisis
  • Poland's foreign minister said the country's consulate in Sevastopol had been "reluctantly" evacuated as a result of "continuing disturbances by Russian forces there"
Attacked and beaten

Ukraine's Crimea region remains tense ahead of a self-declared referendum to be held on 16 March on whether to join the Russian Federation.

With no guns left, road spikes are the base's last line of defence, as Ben Brown reports

Pro-Russian soldiers apparently tried to seize another Ukrainian military base outside the biggest city, Sevastopol, overnight but no shots were fired and they pulled back.

Two journalists were attacked and beaten during the standoff while it has emerged that an Associated Press crew had their equipment seized in the Crimean capital, Simferopol, on Thursday.

Crimea

  • Autonomous republic within Ukraine
  • Transferred from Russia in 1954
  • Ethnic Russians - 58.5%*
  • Ethnic Ukrainians - 24.4%*
  • Crimean Tatars - 12.1%*
  • Source: Ukraine census 2001

The BBC's Christian Fraser in Crimea says that every day there is intimidation of the Ukrainians, who believe pro-Russian soldiers are trying to force a reaction as a pretext to take over.

It is becoming more dangerous for the media, our correspondent adds.

Also on Saturday, a team of international military observers was again refused entry to Crimea.

Warning shots were fired as a convoy including members of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) approached the border, but witnesses said the shots did not appear directed at the observers.

It is the third time in a week that the team has been turned back at Crimea's land border with the rest of Ukraine.

Pro-Russian forces took control of key installations on the peninsula on 28 February in a largely bloodless operation which seems to have had the support of many of Crimea's majority ethnic Russians.

'Terror and intimidation'

On Friday, Mr Lavrov warned the US not to take "hasty and reckless steps" in response to the crisis in Crimea.

Map

Speaking to reporters in Moscow on Saturday, he said: "We are ready to continue a dialogue [with the West] on the understanding that a dialogue should be honest and partner-like, and without attempts to make us look like a party to the conflict. We didn't create this crisis."

The crisis in Ukraine began in late November when President Viktor Yanukovych abandoned a landmark agreement with the EU in favour of closer ties with Russia.

Mr Lavrov insisted the basis for any talks should be the agreement signed on 21 February between Ukraine's opposition and Mr Yanukovych, under which a national unity government would be formed and early elections would be held by December.

The BBC's James Reynolds reports from the government buildings in Donetsk, a focal point for tension

The following day, Mr Yanukovych fled the capital Kiev as protesters seized his office and parliament voted to remove him from power.

The Russian foreign minister said the interim government in Kiev was "not independent because it depends to a great extent on the radical nationalists who seized power by force of arms".

Right Sector, the main radical group, was "calling the tune" in Kiev, he said, and using "terror and intimidation" as its methods.

Kiev does not recognise Crimea's pro-Moscow leadership, which was sworn in at an emergency session as pro-Russian forces began to take over.

Western states have accused Russia of violating Ukrainian sovereignty in Crimea, home to its Black Sea Fleet.

Both the US and EU have threatened Moscow with sanctions.

Key gas pipelines in Ukraine

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