Russia reiterates intervention option to protect “compatriots and citizens”
Russia has restated the option of intervening in Ukraine to protect its “compatriots and citizens” as deadly clashes erupted in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine leaving one man dead and nearly 30 wounded.
A 22-year-old activist of the nationalist Svoboda Party was stabbed to death during clashes between pro-Russian demonstrators and supporters of the new government in Kiev.
Twenty-nine people were wounded, including one in serious condition, authorities said.
The clashes broke out when Euromaidan activists from Kiev attempted to rally “in favour of Ukraine’s unity” in the industrial city of Donetsk on Thursday night even as pro-Russian demonstrators were protesting against the arrest of their leader accused of fomenting separatism.
The Donetsk clashes marked an ominous shift from last month’s clashes between anti-government protesters and police to confrontation between pro-Russian protesters and Ukrainian nationalists. Nearly 90 people died in violent protests in Kiev’s Maidan Square last month, which led to the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Friday that the violence in the Russian-speaking city showed the Ukrainian authorities “do not control the situation in the country.”
“Russia is aware of its responsibility for the lives of compatriots and fellow citizens in Ukraine and reserves the right to take people under its protection,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin cited the need to protect “the lives of Russian citizens and compatriots” when he asked for and obtained a parliamentary mandate last month to send armed forces to Ukraine.
He later said he saw no need to use force in Ukraine, but warned that the option was on the table.
The statement was issued hours before Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in London in an 11th-hour attempt to bridge their widely differing positions ahead of a crucial vote in Ukraine’s enclave of Crimea over its plans to join Russia.
The top diplomats of Russia and the U.S have been in daily contact for the past two weeks, but have so far failed to find a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis.
Going into the talks Mr. Lavrov said the situation was “difficult.”
Meanwhile, Russia and NATO continue to flex military muscles in Europe.
Around 16,000 soldiers from 16 NATO countries began drills in Norway, 400 km from the Russian border, on Wednesday to test their air, land and maritime mettle in extreme weather and cold conditions.
Russia on Wednesday announced land forces manoeuvres in the southern military district near Ukraine. About 8,000 troops from the infantry, armoured, airborne and naval units will train for better coordination, the Russian Defence Ministry said.
This is the fourth war game in Russia over the past two weeks.