Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday called on Western powers to back a proposal for Ukraine’s Russian-speaking regions to have greater powers in a “federal” structure.
“If our Western partners are ready, then Russia, the United States and the European Union could form a support group on Ukraine and formulate shared appeals to those now in power in Kiev,” Lavrov said in an interview with Russian state television.
This would lead to talks between “all Ukrainian political forces without exception, naturally excluding armed radicals” and would end in a new constitution allowing for a “federal structure” with greater regional autonomy, he said.
The interview was broadcast as Lavrov was due to meet US Secretary of State John Kerry for hastily arranged talks in Paris later in the day.
Kerry on Saturday changed course on a flight back to Washington from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to meet with Lavrov in the French capital.
Russia backs the idea of greater regional autonomy because millions of Russian speakers are concentrated in Ukraine’s eastern regions as well as in Crimea.
This would “protect the rights of those who live in Ukraine, primarily of course the Russian population which is important to us,” Lavrov said.
Lavrov acknowledged that his first talks with interim Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya last week ended without any agreement on Moscow’s federalization plan.
“Andriy Deshchytsya said our proposal was unacceptable because federalization contradicts the basic principles of Ukraine’s state structure,” Lavrov said.
“I don’t understand why. I don’t know any such principles,” he said.
He added that Deshchytsya also rejected a proposal to make Russian the second official language in Ukraine.
Addressing fears of Russia’s massing troops on Ukraine’s borders, Lavrov said that “we do not pursue any evil designs and are open to honest talks as before.”
“However, no one has cancelled the right that every state has to move its forces on its own territory,” he added.
Meanwhile, outgoing NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen yesterday said that the Ukraine crisis underscored the need to protect the right of nations to map out their own future.
In an opinion piece entitled “The right to choose,” he called Russia’s actions in Crimea a violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, which undermined the rule of international law.
“And they flout the principle that every state is sovereign, and free to choose its own fate,” Rasmussen said in an article for Germany’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper, which was also published in other NATO member states.
Freedom of choice helped Europe overcome its Cold War divisions, he said, but added that “the crisis in Ukraine is a reminder to us all that we must defend that principle.
“That is what NATO is doing,” he said.
Rasmussen, who will step down as head of the 28-nation transatlantic alliance later this year, said NATO’s door was open to new members who are ready to make the necessary reforms.
“Accession to NATO is a free choice, but it is not a free ride,” he said.
Non-NATO member Ukraine’s policy on joining the alliance has changed over the past decade, but cooperation between the two has “grown steadily stronger as a result”, Rasmussen said.
And he referred to NATO and the EU’s expansion over the last 15 years which had provided the new members’ democracies with “the strongest possible anchor” and also benefited NATO.