The United States and the European Union on Saturday went head-to-head with Russia on how to best handle the political crisis in Ukraine, sparking heated exchanges over each other’s meddling in the direction of the country’s future.
Speaking at a security conference in Munich, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that what happens in Ukraine is crucial for Europe's future while his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov blasted wilful and two-faced Western interference.
"Nowhere is the fight for a democratic, European future more important today than in Ukraine," Kerry told political, diplomatic and military leaders.
"The United States and EU stand with the people of Ukraine in that fight," said Kerry who later Saturday met Ukrainian opposition leaders including former world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko.
"They are fighting for the right to associate with partners who will help them realise their aspirations — and they have decided that means their futures do not have to lie with one country alone, and certainly not coerced," he said. "Russia and other countries should not view the European integration of their neighbours as a zero-sum game."
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy told another panel that the EU wanted good relations with Russia, but that the Ukrainian people had to have the right to choose their own future, a future with Europe.
In turn, Russia’s Lavrov, speaking at the same panel, lashed out at the West, accusing it of stoking the violence in Kiev in a clear example of double standards.
"Why are many prominent EU politicians actually encouraging such actions although back home they are quick to severely punish any violations of the law?" he said.
"What does incitement of increasingly violent street protests have to do with promoting democracy?"
"Why don't we hear condemnation of those who seize and hold government buildings, attack the police, torture police, use racist and anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans?" Lavrov said.
Ukraine was plunged into a deep political crisis in November when President Viktor Yanukovich backed away from a trade deal with EU to instead favour the country’s relations with its old master, Russia.
The decision triggered massive anti-government protests, which have turned increasingly violent.
Earlier Saturday, Ukraine’s opposition party warned that it was "very likely" Kiev would respond to the unrest by resorting to "a use of force scenario, including with the involvement of the Ukranian army".
The Ukrainian defence ministry has warned that protestors' seizure of government buildings was unacceptable and that "further escalation of the confrontation threatens the country's territorial integrity".
Ukraine's SBU security service meanwhile announced a criminal investigation into what it said was an opposition attempt to seize power.
The opposition, which has jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko as its head, told AFP that "an announcement by the SBU is an element of a use-of-force scenario, planning the possible introduction of a state of emergency".
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-02-01