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Ukraine

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov says Moscow is 'defending compatriots'

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said Moscow’s actions in Ukraine’s Crimea is about defending its citizens and compatriots. World leaders have continued to appeal for calm and dialogue.

Crimea crisis triggers more diplomacy

At the opening of the 25th UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva on Monday, Foreign Minister Lavrov said Moscow’s military presence in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula was a question of "defending our citizens and compatriots and ensuring human rights and the right to life."

Russian forces have taken control of the Black Sea peninsula after Russian President Vladimir Putin won approval from the upper house of parliament to send troops to Ukraine, amid the standoff in Crimea following the ousting of pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych.

Western leaders have condemned the move as a "clear" violation of Ukrainian sovereignty.

At the beginning of his speech, Lavrov said the use of Russian troops was necessary "until the normalization of the political situation."

"The victors intend to make use of the fruits of their victory to attack human rights and fundamental freedoms ... of minorities," Lavrov said adding that "radicals" were in control of the cities and were limiting the rights of "linguistic minorities."

"Violence of ultra-nationalists threatens the lives and the regional interests of Russians and the Russian-speaking population," he said.

Lavrov also criticized warnings of sanctions and boycotts over Moscow’s role in the escalating crisis, accusing the West of putting its own "geopolitical calculations" ahead of the fate of the Ukrainian people.

"We call for a responsible approach, to put aside geopolitical calculations, and above all to put the interests of the Ukrainian people first," he said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is to meet with Russia's Lavrov later on Monday in Geneva.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk told reporters on Monday that, "No one will give up Crimea to anyone."

Following his comments, pro-Russian demonstrators entered the regional government building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, the home city of former President Yanukovych.

Hundreds of protesters had gathered earlier in front of the building waving Russian flags before a smaller group entered and began occupying the first floor of the building.

World urges calm

Ahead of an extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said international diplomacy must prevail to solve the crisis.

"Crisis diplomacy is not a weakness but it will be more important than ever to not fall into the abyss of military escalation," Steinmeier told reporters.

Steinmeier also suggested a fact-finding mission by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Europe's main human rights and democracy watchdog, as an initial response.

"We are considering whether it wouldn't make good sense to create transparency about what is happening on the ground in eastern Ukraine and Crimea instead of being dependent on rumors," he said.

His comments come one day after Russian President Putin agreed to a proposal from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to form a "fact-finding" mission to calm escalating tensions between Moscow and Kyiv.

"President Putin accepted the German chancellor's proposal to immediately establish a commission of enquiry as well as a contact group, possibly under the direction of the [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] to open a political dialogue," a statement from Berlin said on Sunday evening.

hc/ph (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

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