Russia's Lavrov says provocateurs behind 'hysteria' of Ukrainian protests

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 14, 2013 7:17 AM
Russia's Lavrov says provocateurs behind 'hysteria' of Ukrainian protests

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Ukrainian demonstrators were overreacting to the country's policy swerve to Russia and criticized the West for excessive involvement in the protests in Kiev's Independence Square.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich's decision to spurn a trade and cooperation pact with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia has triggered weeks of unrest with protesters demanding dismissal of his government.

Protesters are streaming into the capital to attend a mass opposition rally on Sunday, joining the thousands already camped out in Kiev's main square.

The size and intensity of the protests suggest some external force has been stoking dissent, Lavrov told Russian news channel Rossiya 24.

"There's no doubt that provocateurs are behind this. The fact that our Western partners have apparently lost touch with reality is a great sadness to me," he said.

The outpouring of public anger is disproportionate, Russia's Lavrov said in an interview filmed during his trip to Tehran last week, but broadcast on Saturday.

"It is astounding how the country is on the brink of hysteria due to a sovereign decision by the legitimate government of Ukraine," he said.

"What did Yanukovich's government do? ... Maybe they announced they would build an atomic bomb? Or maybe they shot someone?"

The Foreign Minister also joined Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in expressing disapproval of EU politicians such as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton who have visited protest sites in recent weeks.

"Imagine if I went to Germany...(and) walked among protesters who support parties calling for Germany to change its relationship towards the EU," he said.

"I think the European Parliament, NATO, the Council of Europe and the OSCE would pass a resolution on how outrageous it is for Russia to involve itself in sovereign Germany's internal affairs."

On Friday U.S. Senators issued a resolution calling for the United States to consider sanctions against Ukraine in case there is further violence against peaceful demonstrators. Two senators including John McCain, a leading Republican voice on foreign policy issues, also plan to attend Sunday's rally.

Despite talks in Brussels by his government aimed at securing financial aid from the EU for his near-bankrupt country, Yanukovich appears on course to go to Moscow on December 17 to tie up a trade agreement which the opposition fears could slam the door on integration with Europe.

In the interview, Lavrov said the door was still open for Ukraine to join the customs union with Russia provided it is willing to sign up to all its conditions.

However he said the union was not an attempt to protect members' trade interests at the expense of the European Union.

"We have repeatedly offered to gradually and collectively build a common economic humanitarian zone stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok," Lavrov said.

(Reporting by Alessandra Prentice Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)