French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Tuesday that Moscow was issuing Russian passports in Crimea, in southern Ukraine, where Kiev says it will not renew Russia’s Black Sea fleet base.
“We all know that they are handing out Russian passports over there,” Kouchner said in an interview with Kommersant, according to a French translation of his comments written in Russian.
Moscow is in conflict with Kiev over its future in Crimea. Ukrainian authorities want the Black Sea fleet to leave its Sevastopol base when the lease runs out in 2017.
Kouchner told the newspaper that a “danger exists” that Russia might try to make advances in Crimea after the success of its military operation in Georgia in August.
He said, however, that he did not have that impression after holding talks with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Kouchner met Lavrov in St Petersburg on Tuesday as France holds the presidency of the EU, which has sent ceasefire monitors to Georgia.
Back in August, Kouchner said that after Moscow’s intervention in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia and Abkazia, Russia could have “other objectives,” including “Crimea, Ukraine and Moldova.”
Russia said it went into South Ossetia to defend its citizens, after issuing Russian passports to South Ossetians since 2002, as justification for sending Russian troops.
“Georgia was then attacked. You showed all signs of being prepared. The Russian forces appeared like a miracle at the right moment at the frontier,” Kouchner told the newspaper, but added: “I do not want to accuse anyone.”
Crimea was considered Russian territory until the Soviet Union ceded it in 1954 to Ukraine, a Soviet republic at the time.