Russia: no plans to invade southeast Ukraine

Pro-Kremlin Crimea leader urges east Ukraine to vote on joining Russia

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that his country has no plans to invade southeast Ukraine, following talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

“Russia has no, and cannot have, any plans to invade the southeast region of Ukraine,” Lavrov said after discussions held just two days before a referendum in the southern Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.

He said differences remain between Moscow and the U.S. following negotiations in London aimed at ending the crisis in Ukraine, whose strategic Crimea region is voting this weekend on whether to secede.

After several hours of talks with Kerry, Lavrov confirmed there was “no common vision” between the two nations - although he described the dialogue as “useful.”

He reaffirmed that Russia will “respect the results of the referendum” in Crimea and said sanctions would harm relations. “Our partners also realize that sanctions are counterproductive,” he said.

European and U.S. leaders have repeatedly urged Moscow to pull back its troops in Crimea or face possible economic sanctions and political isolation.

Lavrov said Crimea means more to Russia than the Falklands mean to Britain.

Argentine forces invaded the Falklands in 1982, prompting Margaret Thatcher, then British prime minister, to dispatch a naval task force which retook them in a short but bloody war.
Argentina has stepped up its calls for Britain to discuss the islands’ sovereignty in recent years.

The Russian foreign minister also compared the situation in Crimea with Kosovo. The United States says the breakaway of Kosovo from Serbia was a special case. Russia says Crimea should be regarded as a special case as well.

Joining Russia

Crimea’s self-declared leader said Friday that the region could join the Russian Federation within one year of its referendum that is set to be held this weekend.

“It would take a maximum of one year,” Crimea’s pro-Kremlin Prime Minister Sergiy Aksyonov told reporters ahead of Sunday’s vote, which has been backed by Moscow but denounced as illegal by Kiev and much of the international community, AFP reported.

Aksyonov predicted a strong vote in favor of union with Russia in Sunday’s referendum.

“We have a survey by renowned Ukrainian and Crimean polling experts showing clearly and plainly that more than 80 percent of people in Crimea are ready to join the Russian Federation,” Aksyonov told Reuters.

Aksyonov, whose election in a closed session of the regional parliament is not recognized by Kiev, dismissed opponents’ accusations he will fix the referendum on Moscow’s orders. “We guarantee that all aspects of European law will be followed, including security for voters,” he said in an interview.

Western countries dismiss the vote as illegal. “The referendum on Sunday will have no legitimacy, no legal effect, it can have no moral effect. It is a piece of political theatre that is being perpetrated at the barrel of a gun,” Daniel Baer, the U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, told reporters in Vienna.

At the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said time was running out for a peaceful solution. She urged Russia to listen to the “remarkably unified” voices of its 14 fellow members of the Security Council and the Ukrainian people, according to Reuters.

Diplomats said the one-page resolution would urge countries not to recognize the results of the vote in Crimea. A vote on the draft was postponed until Saturday at the latest to allow time for more negotiations.

[With Reuters and AFP]