Russia open to ‘honest’ dialogue on Ukraine

Tensions between Moscow and the West have surged in recent days as pro-Moscow forces took over the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea

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Russia is open to having an “honest, equal” dialogue with foreign states on the crisis in Ukraine, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday.

“We are open to an honest, equal and objective dialogue with our foreign partners to find a way to help all of Ukraine come out of the crisis,” Lavrov said at a televised news conference in Moscow, in a clear reference to the West.

Tensions between Moscow and the West have surged in recent days as pro-Moscow forces took over the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which then announced plans to hold a referendum on becoming part of Russia.

Lavrov said the Ukrainian government was taking orders from extremists and denied Moscow had any direct role in the crisis in Crimea.

“The interim government... is not independent. It depends, unfortunately, on radical nationalists who carried out an armed coup,” Lavrov said.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s acting foreign minister said his country would not give up Crimea and would do all in its power to resolve the crisis over the Black Sea peninsula peacefully, according to Reuters news agency.

Andriy Deshchytsia urged Russia to do more to ensure foreign observers can enter Crimea and made a new call for the creation of an international “contact group” to discuss the crisis over the region, now controlled by Russian forces.

“Crimea is and will be Ukrainian territory and we will not give up Crimea to anyone,” Deshchytsia said during a news conference in the Ukrainian capital Kiev.

Also on Saturday, Russia's defense ministry announced that Moscow is considering halting foreign inspections of its strategic weapons arsenal, including nuclear-capable missiles, in response to “threats” from the United States and NATO over the Ukraine crisis.

“The unfounded threats towards Russia from the United States and NATO over its policy on Ukraine are seen by us as an unfriendly gesture that allows the declaration of force majeure circumstances,” a high-ranking defense ministry official, who was not named, said in a statement.

The inspections that could be halted are carried out in line with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with the United States and the Vienna Document between Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) member states.

A Ukrainian officer at a military base in Ukraine’s region of Crimea said that pro-Russia soldiers have crashed a truck through its gates in an attempt to take it over, according to the Associated Press.

Three dozen men wearing unmarked camouflage uniforms arrived late Friday, Lt. Col. Vitaly Onishchenko, deputy commander of the base, said.

Saturday they turned off power and cut telephone lines and urged Ukrainian troops surrender their weapons and swear allegiance to Russia, he said adding that the invaders left around midnight.

No shots were fired, but the incident reflected tensions running high in Crimea, where Ukrainian military bases have been seized or blocked by pro-Russia forces. Russia has a major naval base in Crimea.

Crimea’s parliament has set a March 16 referendum on joining Russia, which has been denounced by Ukraine’s government.

(With Reuters, AP and AFP)

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