UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin assured him he had no intention of making another military move into Ukraine following the annexation of Crimea.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin echoed the U.N. chief, saying Putin made clear in a March 18 statement that there was not going to be any new Russian move into Ukraine. He accused unnamed countries of "trying to artificially whip up the atmosphere of international crisis."
The new Ukrainian government and the West have voiced concerns about a possible invasion into pro-Russian eastern and southern Ukraine following Moscow's buildup of its troops near the border.
Ban and Churkin spoke to reporters after the secretary-general briefed the Security Council behind closed doors on his recent talks with Putin in Moscow and Ukraine's leaders in Kiev.
"Some parties were trying to whip up tension — Russian aggression is imminent, or something like that, throwing wild assessments of the presence of our troops allegedly on the border with Ukraine," Churkin said.
"Our forces in Russia are undergoing their usual routine, staying in their barracks or doing some training," he said. "But there is no worry of any Russian initiative against Ukraine."
Churkin said there have been four inspections along the Russia-Ukraine border by about a dozen countries this month — including one by the United States, Germany and Ukraine — "and none of them told us they saw anything particularly disconcerting."
He said Putin told Russia's defense minister on Friday to return Ukraine's military hardware from Crimea, adding "this is not something you do if you plan anything dramatic against this country."
Ban said during his visits to Moscow and Kiev on March 20-21 "emotions were running high ... and tensions have been very highly charged." He said he urged leaders in both countries to de-escalate the situation and engage in direct talks, and called on Ukraine's leaders to address domestic concerns that Russia has.
But the secretary-general said "President Putin ... told me that he had no intention to make any military move."
Churkin said the effort to whip up an international crisis "is not helpful at all." What all parties need to do is help the Ukrainians get out of the crisis in the country, he said.
Churkin said Russia has spelled out its views of what needs to be done to "our international colleagues" and the Ukrainians.
"The armed groups must be disarmed. The radicals must be reined in, and most importantly there must be (a) constitutional process ... and the results of a constitutional assembly must be put to a referendum," Churkin said. Then, there will be a new constitution "where all the regions of the country will be comfortable about where they are, about their rights, and about where their country is going."
Russia has pushed strongly for federalizing Ukraine — giving its regions more autonomy — but Ukraine's interim authorities in Kiev have rejected such a move.
Churkin said the Ukrainians and their Western supporters only want to talk about a presidential election on May 25, which he said would take place "in a situation of political chaos in the country."
"There is no political leader in sight who might be able to unite the country," he said. "All the politicians one can hear about are extremely divisive for the Ukrainian society."
Churkin said Russia is being urged to engage in dialogue and is ready to talk if there's a response to its views of what must be done.
The Ukrainians say they can't hold a constitutional assembly now because there's no one to organize it, so Churkin proposed that the international community help. And he reiterated Russia's call for the establishment of an international contact group that could take on this role.