Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday appealed for calm after a flare-up with Ukraine over the annexed Crimea peninsula but warned Moscow was ready to stamp out any attempts to destabilise the region. A simmering feud between Russia and Ukraine sparked by the Kremlin’s seizure of Crimea in 2014 burst back into life on Wednesday when Russia accused Kiev of attempting armed incursions into the region.
Ukraine fiercely denied the allegations but a subsequent war of words sparked fears of a wider conflict between the two ex-Soviet neighbours. Lavrov said Moscow remained committed to a stalled European-brokered peace plan to end fighting in two eastern regions between Kiev and pro-Russian rebels and cautioned against succumbing to “emotions”.
“For now the main thing is not to give in to emotions, not to slip into taking some extreme actions but to try to stabilise the situation with restraint and concentration,” Lavrov said following talks with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier in the city of Yekaterinburg. Lavrov, however, warned that Moscow would take “comprehensive measures to make sure any attempts to make incursions into our territory are nipped in the bud”.
Russia’s FSB security service said last week that one of its officers and a soldier died in clashes as Moscow thwarted “terrorist attacks” in Crimea by Ukrainian military intelligence and beat back armed assaults. Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged not to let the alleged incidents go unpunished but his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko dismissed the accusations as “fantasies” aimed at giving a pretext for Moscow to ramp up its aggression.
Steinmeier said that while the details of the latest flare-up in Crimea remained unclear, Germany was concerned by the surge in tensions. Berlin’s top diplomat said he and Lavrov discussed the possibility of getting four-way peace talks with Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France back on track after Putin appeared to pull the plug on a mooted fresh round next month.
Steinmeier and Lavrov also discussed the situation in Syria, with both agreeing that a daily three-hour ceasefire pledged by Russia around the war-ravaged city of Aleppo was not sufficient. “The pause for three hours each day is not enough,” Lavrov said. He said that in order for the window to be lengthened “it was necessary to solve issues on the fight with terrorists” as Moscow fears rebels are using any respite to send in more fighters.