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Ukraine

Russia criticizes EU attempts to expand 'sphere of influence' in Ukraine

Russia's foreign minister has criticzed the EU's role in Ukraine's political crisis. During a visit from German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Sergei Lavrov accused the bloc of expanding its "sphere of influence."

At a joint press conference with Steinmeier in Moscow on Friday, Lavrov warned the West against interfering in Ukraine's affairs.

"We believe Ukrainians themselves should find a way out of the political crisis …We expect all other partners of Ukraine to follow the same principle," Lavrov told reporters.

The German foreign minister traveled to Moscow for talks with Lavrov over the unrest in Ukraine, which was spurred by President Viktor Yanukovych's decision in November to reject an economic deal with the European Union in favor of strengthening ties with Russia. In the ensuing months, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in protest.

Lavrov accused the EU of attempting to create a "sphere of influence" by pushing Ukraine towards closer ties with the bloc at the expense of relations with Russia.

"I fully agree with Frank-Walter that there should be no spheres of influence. But dragging Ukraine to one side, telling it that it needs to choose 'either or,' with the EU or with Russia, [the European Union] is in fact trying to create such a sphere of influence," he said. "That is obvious and no nice words can change that."

Russia's role

Ahead of Friday's meeting, Steinmeier told Russia's Kommersant newspaper that Russia had an important role to play in reaching a solution for Ukraine.

"Nobody has an interest in a further escalation of the situation in Kyiv," Steinmeier said.

All countries need to promote a dialogue between the government and the opposition and "to that end, Russia can also make a constructive contribution," he added.

Steinmeier, who is on his first visit to Russia since taking office in December, said that new elections should decide Ukraine's path, not the violence that has injured hundreds and left several people dead. "A good future for Ukraine cannot be founded on violence and extremism," he said.

Hope for Syria talks

The two foreign ministers also touched on the latest round of Syrian peace talks, currently underway in Geneva. The negotiations have been bogged down by basic disagreements and blame-trading between the government and opposition representatives.

Steinmeier acknowledged that "we are still far off from a political solution to the Syrian crisis" but he expressed hope for an agreement over getting aid to citizens trapped in cities that have seen heavy fighting.

"There has been talk about humanitarian access and there will hopefully be talks about local ceasefires," he told reporters.

For his part, Lavrov also accused the United States of seeking a "regime change" in Syria. His comments followed a meeting in Geneva on Thursday between US and Russian officials with UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi. Lavrov said a transitional governing body must not be the sole focus of the talks in Geneva, which were "going in circles," he added.

dr/jm (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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