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Ukraine

Russia insists on Ukrainian troop pullout

The Russian Foreign Ministry has insisted Kyiv withdraw all of its army units from southeastern Ukraine. Moscow's demand came hours after it said it would respond if its interests were attacked in Ukraine.

Russia's Foreign Ministry on Wednesday said it believed that both the West and Kyiv had distorted an agreement reached in Geneva last week aimed at defusing the Ukraine crisis.

Moscow said it believed that both the Ukrainian provisional government and Washington had been "closing their eyes" to "provocative actions" by Ukrainian nationalists. It called for a de-escalation of the situation after Ukraine re-launched military operations against pro-Kremlin separatists late on Tuesday, adding that talks should take place involving all parties.

"The Russian side once again insists on the immediate de-escalation of the situation in Ukraine's southeast, the pullback of units of the Ukrainian army and the start of a genuine internal Ukrainian dialogue involving all of the country's regions and political formations," the ministry said.

Troops amass near Russia-Ukraine border

The Geneva declaration called on all sides to do their utmost to disarm militia, with Ukraine obliged to write protection into its constitution for ethnic Russians. Russia, which as part of the deal has said it will not sending regular troops into Ukraine, expressed doubts about whether the accord was being observed correctly.

"Moscow is extremely surprised by the distorted interpretations by Kyiv authorities as well as by our US partners of the contents of a declaration adopted in Geneva on April 17 as a result of a four-way meeting between representatives of Russia, the United States, the European Union and Ukraine," the ministry added.

Earlier in the day, in an interview with state broadcaster RT's English language television channel, Russian foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia would respond if its interests in Ukraine, the eastern and southern regions of which are home to a large number of ethnic Russians, were attacked.

"If we are attacked, we would certainly respond. If our interests, our legitimate interests, the interests of Russians are attacked directly, like they were in South Ossetia for example, I do not see any other way but to respond in accordance with international law," said Lavrov, referring to a separatist territory in Georgia where Moscow sent troops in 2008.

The Reuters news agency reported on Wednesday that Russia was conducting military exercises in it southeastern Rostov region. NATO claims that Russia has amassed some 40,000 soldiers close to its border with Ukraine.

rc/ng (AFP, Reuters)

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