AFTERNOON NEWS ROUNDUP
From RFE/RL's News Desk:
RUSSIA BLAMES WEST FOR UKRAINE CRISIS
Russia has lashed out at the United States and European Union over Ukraine, saying the conflict there is the product of what Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called 25 years of selfish Western expansionism.
Addressing Russia's lower parliament house on November 19, Lavrov said the West "must support the process of mutually acceptable agreements instead of supporting the party of war in Kyiv, closing its eyes on outrageous human rights violations, lawlessness, and war crimes."
Lavrov repeated Moscow's denials of involvement in an armed conflict between government forces and pro-Russian separatists that has killed more than 4,100 combatants and civilians since April.
He said the conflict is an internal issue for Ukraine and "all attempts to turn Russia into a party to the conflict are counterproductive and have no chance of success."
His address to the State Duma, which was broadcast live on state television, appeared aimed to assure Russians that the Kremlin is in the right and fend off growing Western accusations of direct Russian military support for the separatists, who hold large parts of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.
"The Ukraine crisis is a consequence of the policy Western states have pursued for a quarter-century of strengthening their own security at the expense of the security of others and broadening the geopolitical space under their control."
It came a day after President Vladimir Putin, who has used anti-Western words and actions to strengthen his grip on the country, said that the United States wants to "subordinate" Russia to itself and "solve its problems at our expense."
Lavrov tempered the anti-Western message by saying that there is no alternative to cooperation between Russia and the European Union, long its biggest trade partner.
But he blamed the EU for the strains and said Russia's relations with the West must be based on the assumption of equality, echoing a demand Putin set out in a foreign policy decree at the start of his third term in 2012.
"Russia's constructive course toward integration is running up against the desire of the United States and its allies to divide and rule, to push their tactical plans."
Russia banned a broad range of food imports from the EU and the United States in August in retaliation for sanctions they imposed on Russia over the Ukraine crisis.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine has raised fears among Russia's neighbors that it could seek control of more territory, and has brought Moscow's relations with the West to post-Cold War lows.
Ties had already been badly damaged by Russia's annexation of Crimea in March, which followed the flight of a Russian-backed president from Ukraine after months of protests over his November decision to spurn a political and economic pact with the European Union and turn toward Moscow instead.
Kyiv and the West accuse Russia of sending weapons and troops into eastern Ukraine to aid the separatists, who consolidated their hold on parts of eastern Ukraine's industrial Donbas region with November 2 elections denounced by Ukraine, the United States, and the EU as illegal.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on November 18 that there had been a "serious military buildup" both in eastern Ukraine and on the Russian side of the border, and urged Moscow to pull back its forces.
Kyiv and Western governments are concerned that Putin may want pro-Russian separatists to seize more ground in Ukraine or solidify control over the territory they hold, creating a "frozen conflict" that could destabilize the country, drain its economy, and crimp its pro-Western government for years.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who met with both Putin and Lavrov in Moscow on November 18 after talks in Kyiv, said during his visit that he saw "no grounds for optimism in the current situation."
Steinmeier warned of a "dangerous situation developing" in Ukraine and appealed to all sides to stick to an agreement signed in Minsk on September 5 on a cease-fire and steps toward peace.
The cease-fire is violated daily, but Steinmeier said the Minsk accord must not be abandoned and called for the swift completion of a plan for the "disengagement" of the conflicting sides.
RUSSIA WILL NOT PUSH 'ALLIES' ON CRIMEA RECOGNITION
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Moscow will not pressure its "allies" to recognize Crimea as a part of Russia or to join it in recopgnizing Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions as independent states.
In a question-and-answer session following an address to Russia's lower parliament house on November 19, Lavrov said the security and economic groupings that Russia is currently building with other former Soviet republics are aimed to "protect the legitimate interests of our countries' security."
He said that "on some issues, including the status of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, or Crimean history, we are not making our partners share our assessments 100 percent, as we do not want to put them into an awkward position if for some reason it is uncomfortable for them."
The remarks appeared aimed to assuage concerns among ex-Soviet republics that Russia, which annexed Crimea in March in a move that Kyiv and the West say was illegal, wants to diminish their sovereignty or control their foreign policy.