Russia has seized on remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama about an internationally brokered deal to resolve last year's Ukrainian crisis, claiming they prove that Washington was involved in a "coup" against Ukraine's Moscow-backed president.
In a CNN interview broadcast on February 1, Obama said he thinks Russia has been interfering in Ukraine partly because President Vladimir Putin was "caught off balance" by embattled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych "fleeing after we had brokered a deal to transition power in Ukraine."
Speaking in Beijing on February 2, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Obama's remarks were "proof that from the very beginning, the United States was involved in the antigovernment coup that Obama neutrally described as a 'power transition'."
Lavrov did not explain how Obama's remarks proved his claims.
In Washington, the Obama administration reacted to Lavrov's statement on February 2 by saying that Russia is pushing a “revisionist narrative of the crisis in Ukraine” that is “deeply troubling, but utterly unconvincing.”
A senior administration official told RFE/RL that Obama’s remarks referred to U.S. efforts to help resolve the crisis in the run-up to a February 21, 2014 deal signed by Yanukovych and what was then Ukraine's opposition.
The agreement, brokered by three EU diplomats, called for the creation of a national unity government, a presidential election by December 2014, and a return to an earlier Ukrainian constitution that would have curtailed Yanukovych’s powers.
The official said the United States worked with Yanukovych's government, Ukraine's opposition, and “other stakeholders to reach an agreement to put Ukraine back on track toward fulfilling the aspirations of the Ukrainian people for democracy, respect for human rights, European integration and long-term economic growth.”
The official said: “This effort included not just the United States but Russian and European government representatives as well."
On the day the agreement was signed, the White House said Obama and Putin had spoken by telephone and “exchanged views on the need to implement quickly the political agreement reached" in Kyiv.
Yanukovych, who had triggered mass protests in Kyiv by refusing to sign an EU association agreement in November 2013, abandoned power and fled to Russia shortly after signing the February 21 deal.
Russian state-controlled media on February 2 echoed Lavrov’s interpretation of Obama's remarks in the CNN interview.
The state-run RIA-Novosti news agency covered the story in Russian with the headline Obama Announced That The United States Helped Change Power In Ukraine.
Russia's state-owned English-language news agency Sputnik ran the headline Obama Admits U.S. Role In 2014 Ukraine Coup.
But Obama's administration responded to those claims by saying: “The Russian leadership has repeatedly attempted to shift blame for the crisis in Ukraine away from its own policies.”
Russia has repeatedly accused the West of sponsoring Yanukovych’s ouster.
The United States, the European Union, NATO, and the current government in Ukraine accuse Moscow of backing pro-Russian separatists with troops and heavy weaponry for their battle against government forces in eastern Ukraine where the war has killed more than 5,100 people since April.
With reporting by Interfax and sputniknews.com