Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sharpened Russian allegations of
Western interference in its neighbor's turbulent affairs at a joint
news conference after talks with his German counterpart,
Steinmeier had said that "no one should have an interest in lighting
the fuse on the powder keg" and Ukraine must not become a
"geopolitical chess game". He said it was up to the conflicting
parties in Kiev to find a solution.
Russia and the EU have exchanged recriminations since Kiev's
decision in November to shelve plans to sign a trade agreement with
Brussels and to seek closer links with Russia instead, a move that
sparked mass unrest in Ukraine.
The protests, in which at least six people have been killed, led
President Viktor Yanukovich to sack his prime minister and he has
until the end of this month to name a successor.
In many respects, the showdown over Ukraine is about reordering
power and influence in Europe following the 1991 collapse of the
Communist Soviet Union. The EU's enlargement process of the past
decade has drawn in several former Soviet republics and former East
European satellites of Moscow.
Moscow has pushed back, and is now trying to set up its own Eurasian
customs union to rival the EU, preferably with Ukraine, a sprawling
country of 46 million with whom it shares deep historical and
Lavrov warned the West against interceding in the crisis, saying
Ukrainians should be left to solve their own affairs.
"NICE WORDS" NOT GOOD ENOUGH
"I fully agree with Frank-Walter that there should be no spheres of
influence. But dragging Ukraine to one side, telling it that it
needs to choose 'either or', either with the EU or with Russia, (the
European Union) is in fact trying to create such a sphere of
influence," he said.
"That is obvious and no nice words can change that."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet Ukrainian opposition
leaders Vitaly Klitschko and Arseny Yatsenyuk in Berlin on Monday,
her spokesman said.
During talks in Moscow on Thursday evening and
Friday Steinmeier and Lavrov discussed the possibility of an
international organization mandated to mediate between the
conflicting sides in Ukraine.
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Germany has suggested the Organization for Security and Cooperation
in Europe as one possibility. The OSCE, the continent's main rights
watchdog, is now under a Swiss presidency and counts Russia, Ukraine
and European Union countries as members.
Ukraine would have to ask for such mediation, however.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and top EU officials held "clear
the air" talks in Brussels at the end of January. Russia stressed it
wanted more a detailed study of the economic impact of ex-Soviet
republics entering a trade association with the EU and how this
might affect the competitiveness of Russian firms.
Lavrov on Friday urged an end to the "politicization of economic and
business ties" and said Moscow wanted to see a trade area between
the EU and Eurasian zones.
Steinmeier stressed that if future crises such as that in Ukraine
were to be avoided, then Moscow and Brussels would have to discuss
longer-term aims with a mutual pledge of transparency.
"We can't avoid the fact that due to history, and the long enduring
division of different systems, we have different perceptions in East
and West. But if we are aware of this, then we can create trust,"
"It is clear there was competition over Ukraine and recent history
teaches us that was not helpful. Nor was it helpful for relations
between the European Union and Russia."
(Writing by Steve Gutterman and Alexandra Hudson;
editing by Richard Balmforth and Mark Heinrich)
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