Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov yesterday accused the US of encouraging Ukraine to challenge Moscow and heavily weighing in on the EU.
In remarks televised on Saturday, Lavrov said: “Our American colleagues still prefer to push the Ukrainian leadership toward a confrontational path.”
He added that chances for resolving the Ukrainian crisis would have been higher if it only depended on Russia and Europe.
Lavrov spoke after Friday’s EU summit, which decided not to immediately impose new sanctions on Russia for destabilizing eastern Ukraine, but gave the Russian government and pro-Russian insurgents there until tomorrow to take steps to improve the situation.
Ukraine on Friday signed a free-trade pact with the EU, the very deal that angered Russia and triggered the bloodshed and political convulsions of the past seven months that brought Russia-West relations to their lowest point since the Cold War.
In November last year, under pressure from Moscow, then-Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych dumped the EU pact, fueling huge protests that eventually drove him from power.
Moscow responded by annexing the mainly Russian-speaking Crimean Peninsula in March, and pro-Russian separatists soon rose up in Ukraine’s eastern provinces.
The US and the EU slapped travel bans and asset freezes on members of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and threatened to impose more crippling sanctions against entire sectors of Russia’s economy if the Kremlin fails to de-escalate the crisis.
The EU leaders on Friday said Russia and the rebels should take steps to ease the violence, including releasing all captives, retreating from border checkpoints, agreeing on a way to verify the cease-fire and launching “substantial negotiations” on Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s peace plan.
The weeklong ceasefire, which both sides have been accused of violating, expired at 10pm, but Poroshenko quickly declared its extension until 10pm tomorrow.
Ukrainian Minister of Defense Mykhailo Koval was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying yesterday that the situation in the east was largely quiet overnight and there were no casualties among Ukrainian troops, despite sporadic shooting.
Rebels claimed that Ukrainian troops tried to capture one of the checkpoints on the Russian border, which they control, but were rebuffed.