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Ukraine

German foreign minister accuses Russia of dividing Europe

During his trip to Ukraine, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has accused Russia of trying to divide Europe. Meanwhile, Steinmeier called on Kyiv to ensure the rights of ethnic minorities in Ukraine.

Germany's top diplomat flies to Kyiv

Foreign Minister Steinmeier on Saturday promised Ukraine's interim government additional support to help stabilize the divided country, as the West and Russia stand on the precipice of a sanctions war over Moscow's annexation of Crimea.

"We are meeting here today because we know that the situation is still dramatic," Steinmeier said after meeting with Ukraine's interim prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

The German foreign minister went on to say that Berlin wants to support Kyiv's pro-EU government "as much as we can."

Steinmeier's visit comes a day after Ukraine signed the political chapters of an association agreement with the EU. Yatsenyuk said the association agreement was "something that millions of Ukrainians had hoped for." He also called for greater military cooperation with the EU.

"We have to re-arm and strengthen the Ukrainian armed forces," the prime minister said.

'Attempt to splinter Europe'

Steinmeier visited the eastern city of Donetsk later on Saturday, where at least 2,000 people were demonstrating to demand closer ties with Moscow and the return of ex-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Ahead of his visit, the German foreign minister praised Prime Minister Yatsenyuk for declaring that his government was responsible for all Ukrainians.

"You have expressed that minority rights must be respected - these are good signals that the country needs in this situation," Steinmeier said.

On Friday, Moscow agreed to allow the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to deploy 100 observers to eastern Ukraine. But the Kremlin still refuses to allow international monitors in Crimea.

"I hope that the first observers will arrive here in Ukraine in the coming days," Steinmeier said.

The Kremlin has deployed forces on Ukraine's eastern borders, leading to speculation that Moscow could intervene there on behalf of ethnic Russians as it did in Crimea.

Steinmeier once again condemned as illegal the referendum that led to the Black Sea peninsula's annexation by the Kremlin.

"The referendum in Crimea… is a violation of international law and an attempt to splinter Europe," he said.

slk/jlw (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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