KIEV: Ukraine’s foreign minister said Monday that his country was practically in a state of war with Russia, as Moscow further ratcheted up pressure on Kiev, claiming that Russian-leaning eastern regions have plunged into lawlessness.
Russian-U.S. tensions over the crisis exploded into a public row, meanwhile, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry refused to attend talks in Moscow after his counterpart snubbed Kiev’s interim leaders.
Russian forces have effectively taken control of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.The region is to hold a referendum Sunday on whether to split off and become part of Russia, which the West says it will not recognize.
“We have to admit that our life now is almost like ... a war,” Foreign Minister Andrii Deshchytsya said. “We have to cope with an aggression that we do not understand.”
Deshchytsya said Ukraine is counting on help from the West. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is to meet with President Barack Obama in Washington Wednesday.
The Russian Foreign Ministry Monday said lawlessness “now rules in eastern regions of Ukraine as a result of the actions of fighters of the so-called ‘Right Sector,’ with the full connivance” of Ukraine’s new authorities.
Right Sector is a grouping of several far-right and nationalist factions whose activists were among the most radical and confrontational of the three-month-long demonstrations in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, which eventually ousted President Viktor Yanukovych.
The Kremlin statement also claimed Russian citizens trying to enter Ukraine have been turned back at the border by Ukrainian officials.
Pro-Russia sentiment is high in Ukraine’s east and there are fears Russia could seek to incorporate that area as well.
Obama has warned that the referendum in Crimea would violate international law. But Russian President Vladimir Putin made it clear in phone calls Sunday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Minister David Cameron that he supported the vote.
“The steps taken by the legitimate leadership of Crimea are based on the norms of international law and aim to ensure the legal interests of the population of the peninsula,” said Putin, according to the Kremlin.
In a televised meeting Putin was briefed Monday by Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, on the contents of a document Lavrov received from Kerry explaining the U.S. view of the situation in Ukraine.
Lavrov put the much-traveled Kerry on the spot by denouncing him for turning down an invitation to meet in Moscow Monday.
Lavrov said that Kerry’s ideas “do not suit us very much” and that his U.S. counterpart had changed his mind after initially agreeing to come to Moscow.
The Russian government, he said, would now make a series of counter-proposals “on the basis of international law and take into account the interests of all Ukrainians without exception.”
Washington hit back, claiming Moscow was not serious in its efforts, as it had snubbed talks with Ukraine’s interim leadership, brought in by parliament after the pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych fled the country last month.
Kerry is prepared to take part in talks “if and when we see concrete evidence that Russia is prepared to engage” with Washington’s proposals, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Meanwhile, Obama spoke by telephone with Chinese President Xi Jinping late Sunday, trying to court China’s support for efforts to isolate Russia over its military intervention in Ukraine. Obama appealed to Beijing’s vehement opposition to outside intervention in other nations’ domestic affairs, according to a White House statement.
The U.S. president “noted his overriding objective of restoring Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and ensuring the Ukrainian people are able to determine their own future without foreign interference,” the statement said, adding that the two leaders “agreed on the importance of upholding principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
China has been studiously neutral since the Ukraine crisis began and it remained unclear whether China would side with the U.S. and Europe or with Moscow.
The U.N. Security Council, meanwhile, met on Ukraine for the fifth time in 10 days to hear closed-door briefings from U.N. political chief Jeffrey Feltman and Ukraine’s U.N. Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev. The council has been unable to take any action because Russia has veto power.
France’s U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said the goal was to “send a message to the Russians. ... ‘No referendum, you have to respect the Ukrainian constitution and negotiate.’”
The World Bank announced Monday it was prepared to offer $3 billion in new aid to Ukraine this year to help it advance reforms and support crucial development projects.
The Bank said that it “stands ready to continue supporting the Ukrainian people” after receiving a request for assistance from the interim government in Kiev.
“We are committed to supporting the people of Ukraine in these difficult times and very much hope that the situation in the country stabilizes soon,” Bank President Jim Yong Kim said in a statement.