Russia raps NATO over Ukraine protest comments
BRUSSELS - Agence France-Presse
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addresses a news conference after a NATO-Russia foreign ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels December 4, 2013. REUTERS photoRussian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday accused NATO of interfering in Ukrainian affairs, saying he did not understand why it felt it had the right to comment on Kiev's handling of mass street protests.
"I do not understand why NATO adopts such statements," Lavrov said of a declaration Tuesday by the alliance calling for dialogue between the Ukrainian government and protesters angry at its decision to ditch a key trade and partnership accord with the EU.
Lavrov said he also did not understand how NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen could even reply to a question earlier about possible Russian military intervention in Ukraine.
"I cannot understand why such questions are asked," Lavrov told a press conference after a NATO-Russia Council meeting in Brussels also attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
"It helps to create a distorted picture and sends a wrong signal which may cause wrong understanding," he said through an interpreter.
Whether Ukraine seeks closer ties with the European Union is "a domestic issue", he said, adding that he equally could not understand "the scope of the aggressive actions of the opposition".
President Viktor Yanukovych dropped the accord just before a high-profile summit last week with the EU, after Russia made clear the former Soviet state would pay a high price for deserting Moscow's fold.
The decision sparked violent opposition protests in Kiev and dismay in Brussels, which saw the association deal as a major achievement in bringing Eastern Europe closer to the EU.
In its declaration Tuesday, NATO condemned the "use of excessive force against peaceful demonstrators in Ukraine".
"We urge the government and the opposition to engage in dialogue and launch a reform process," it added.
Ukraine is a partner of NATO, the military alliance formed in the Cold War to counter the Soviet Union, but Moscow jealously guards its influence in former Soviet states.
Asked about Georgia -- which fought a brief war with Moscow in 2008 -- Lavrov was similarly critical, claiming NATO was promoting ties with Tbilisi to promote division in a throwback to the Cold War.
NATO expansion "is a continuation of the old logic of the Cold War," he said.
"It implies not only preserving the dividing lines, it's... moving these dividing lines further to the East", undercutting its commitment to shared security, he said.
Georgia has sought close ties with NATO as a counterweight to Russia and was holding a separate meeting with NATO foreign ministers Wednesday.
Lavrov said the recent election of a new Georgia government has opened the prospect of improved relations with Moscow, noting: "We have listened to the proposals of the new leadership." At the same time, he stressed that Russia regards the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as sovereign states, in contrast to NATO which backs Georgia's territorial integrity.
Russia has several thousand troops stationed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.