Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the United States of being behind the political upheaval in Ukraine and said Moscow would respond if its interests came under attack.
Lavrov’s comments came a day after US Vice President Joe Biden was in the Ukrainian capital with promises of support for the pro-Western government, and a warning to Russia not to interfere in Ukraine.
The crisis in Ukraine, now in its fourth month, has dragged Russia’s relations with the West to their lowest since the Cold War. In the east, pro-Russian armed separatists have seized about a dozen public buildings and are defying Kiev’s authority.
A further escalation could lead to damaging economic sanctions, and raises the risk of a disruption to the Russian gas supplies on which Europe depends.
NATO says Russia has built up a force of about 40,000 troop in its border with Ukraine. Moscow says some are stationed there permanently, while others have been deployed as a precaution to protect Russia from the instability in Ukraine.
In Moscow, Lavrov said Moscow would respond if its interests, or the interests of Russian citizens, were attacked. “Russian citizens being attacked is an attack against the Russian Federation,” he said according to excerpts of an interview with the Russia Today news channel.
“There is no reason not to believe that the Americans are running the show,” RT quoted him as saying, referring to developments in Kiev.
Russia justified its intervention in Crimea earlier this year by saying it had to defend Russians living there. In eastern Ukraine some people hold Russian passports.
Lavrov’s ministry, in a separate statement, accused the United States and the interim government in Kiev of a “distorted interpretation” of an international accord, signed in Geneva last week, under which illegal armed groups in Ukraine are to disarm and give up buildings they have
Russia said that condition applies not only to the pro-Russian separatists in the east, but also to groups in the Ukrainian capital whose protests helped bring Ukraine’s new government to power.
Earlier, Ukraine’s government relaunched a security operation to crack down on the pro-Russian armed groups after an Easter pause and said it had the backing of the United States.
‘freed’ eastern town, says kiev
Slavinsk: Ukrainian government said on Wednesday its forces had flushed armed separatists out of a town in eastern Ukraine as part of an “anti-terrorism” operation. The Interior Ministry said the operation took place on the outskirts of Sviatogorsk and no casualties were suffered. The town lies just outside the stronghold of pro-Russian militants in Slaviansk.