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US, UK say Ukraine no East-West battleground

Photo: AFP

The United States and Britain said on Tuesday that Ukraine should not be a battleground between East and West and voiced support for the country after protests that ousted pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovich.


US Secretary of State John Kerry, after talks with his British counterpart, Foreign Secretary William Hague, backed Ukrainian independence as the pair expressed concern that the nation could be torn apart in a battle between the West and Russia.

"This is not a zero-sum game, it is not a West versus East," said Kerry after the two men met at the State Department in Washington.

"This is about the people of Ukraine and Ukrainians making their choice about their future," he said.

Hague, who is planning to visit Kiev shortly, was equally emphatic, saying: "This is a country that needs financial assistance from many sources, including from Russia.

"It's not about pulling them away from Russia. It's about enabling them to make their own choices."

Ukraine will have to be "able to meet the conditions for that and it is important for economic reforms to take place," Hague told reporters outside the State Department.

A "pervasive culture of corruption" must also be tackled for the international community to feel that it can support Ukraine, Hague said.

"It is obviously not in the interests of Russia for Ukraine to face economic collapse," he added. "It isn't in the interests of Russia for the world to turn away."

Territorial integrity

Hague urged Ukraine's interim leaders "to form an inclusive government, involve people from different parts of Ukraine including from the east and the south [where support for Russia is stronger]. It's important for Ukrainians to be able to make these decisions together after the terrible divisions of recent months," he said.

"We want to send our strong support for the territorial integrity and unity of Ukraine," he added.

Kerry said Washington also wanted “to make sure that this is peaceful from this day forward," after almost 100 people died when months of anti-government street protests culminated in violent clashes between police and demonstrators, leading to the ouster of Yanukovich.

Kerry's former US Senate colleagues, after a classified briefing by a senior State Department official, also expressed concerns about Ukraine's territorial pressures.

"We have to be very strong about our views as to keeping the territorial integrity together," Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters after the briefing.

Menendez also said lawmakers could begin looking at "potential sanctions" as a way to ensure a stable transition to a new government.

'Mindful' of Putin

Several lawmakers emerged from the briefing stressing that Washington needed to keep a watchful eye on Russian President Vladimir Putin's intentions regarding Ukraine.

"I'm always mindful that Russia, that Mr Putin, has his own priorities and that could be inconsistent" with Ukraine's decision-making, which "needs to be independent of outside influence," Senator Ben Cardin told reporters.

Senator John McCain, who has openly expressed suspicion of Putin for years, warned that the Russian leader has long had his eye on Ukraine as the "crown jewel" of the former Soviet states.

"I know that Putin believes that Ukraine is part of Russia. He is committed to that," McCain said.

Deputy US Secretary of State William Burns meanwhile arrived in Kiev on Tuesday and met opposition leader and former boxer Vitali Klitschko, in the first of several other planned encounters.

Washington hopes the International Monetary Fund can make an assessment "about exactly what the state of the economy is, a real assessment of what the needs are," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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