Lavrov: “Ukraine Close To Civil War”

by The Daily Lede


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MOSCOW–Russia’s foreign minister said Wednesday that Ukraine is on the brink of civil war and that a solution was urgently needed that would take in to consideration the needs of all the country’s regions.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s dire assessment of the situation in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian militants have been battling government forces for control, came ahead of European-backed talks in Kiev on the possibility of decentralizing power in the country.

“When Ukrainians kill Ukrainians, this is as close to civil war as you can get,” Mr. Lavrov said in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

Ukraine and Western powers have accused Russia of instigating the pro-Russian rebellion in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, a charge Moscow has denied. Over the weekend, residents in both regions voted for greater autonomy from Kiev, although the balloting was widely dismissed as illegitimate.

The leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic on Monday declared independence and asked to join Russia. Officials in Russia haven’t rushed to embrace the idea, as they did following a similar situation in the breakaway region of Crimea, and Mr. Lavrov declined to answer what he called a “hypothetical question” on the matter.

He also reiterated that there was no intention of invading eastern Ukraine even though Moscow has repeatedly said it reserved the right to intervene if it felt ethnic Russians were under threat.

Russia had tens of thousands of troops stationed on its border with Ukraine, but President Vladimir Putin said last week they were being pulled back. Western governments said they had seen little sign of movement on the border.

Scattered violence continues in the east as the Ukrainian government continues with its offensive to rout pro- Russian separatists. Six Ukrainian soldiers were killed on Tuesday in a clash with rebel gunmen near the city of Kramatorsk in Donetsk region, the defense ministry said. On Wednesday, the headmaster of a secondary school in Luhansk was kidnapped by four masked gunmen, local police told the Interfax news agency.

In Kiev, Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, was set to chair the first in a series of round-table meetings Wednesday with input from regional officials and other lawmakers as part of a peace plan proposed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

But the talks wouldn’t include separatist leaders the Kiev government has accused of having “blood on their hands,” raising questions from the start about how effective the discussions could be.

The speaker of the lower house of Russian parliament, Sergei Naryshkin, said Wednesday that Kiev’s refusal to speak to their opponents in the east as well as the continuing military operation there would make it impossible to properly hold presidential elections on May 25.

But for the first time by a leading Russian political figure, Mr. Naryshkin offered a sliver of support for the notion that elections should be held at all.

“It’s hard to imagine that this election could be fully legitimate,” he told Rossiya 24 television. “But it’s obvious that the failure to hold the election would lead to an even sadder situation, so it’s necessary to choose the lesser evil.”

Write to Lukas I. Alpert at lukas.alpert@wsj.com

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  (END) Dow Jones Newswires
  05-14-14 0955ET
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