|Europe closes ranks, while Russia defends right to protect minorities from Ukraine’s radicals
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Ukraine's new leaders of attacking minority rights and said that ultra-nationalists control many areas.
Amid his condemnation, European Union foreign ministers met in Brussels seeking to gather hawkish nations and those favoring dialogue behind a common stand on Russia's threat of military incursion in Ukraine.
“The victors intend to make use of the fruits of their victory to attack human rights and fundamental freedoms... of minorities,'' Lavrov told the opening of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“The radicals continue to control the cities'' and “limit 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.
“This is a question of defending our citizens and compatriots and ensuring human rights and the right to life.''
The Russian foreign minister also slammed warnings of sanctions and boycotts, as Britain and the US spoke of “consequences and costs'' if the Kremlin did not pull back its troops.
“Those who try to interpret the situation as a type of aggression and threaten sanctions and boycotts, are the same who consistently have encouraged [Ukrainians to] refuse dialogue and have ultimately polarized Ukrainian society,'' he told the opening of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
France's Laurent Fabius said in Brussels: “It is vital that Europeans speak with a single voice.’’
Swedish counterpart Carl Bildt, who along with colleagues from ex Soviet satellites is a proponent of tough action against Russia, said he was “not very optimistic'' of a quick fix.
“Some in Russia are still impressed by their military might,'' he said. ''That is not the way to make friends in Europe, in the world.''
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said it was time for diplomacy.
“Europe is without doubt in the worst crisis since the fall of the [Berlin] wall'' 25 years ago, he said.
“The threat of a division of Europe is real again,'' he added. “Now is the time for diplomacy.''
“Diplomacy does not mean weakness but is more needed than ever to prevent us from being drawn into the abyss of military escalation.''
On Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin and said he was violating a 1994 accord in which Moscow committed to respect the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine.
But she also suggested, and Putin agreed, to set up a contact group on Ukraine, reflecting Berlin's desire to keep contacts open with Moscow rather than risk an open breach.
“We need to talk to Putin, who has his own good reasons for doing bad things,'' a senior diplomat told AFP. “The situation is extremely dangerous. We need a way out of this 'us' and 'them' Cold War syndrome.''
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders too warned against hawkish talk, siding with Merkel in calling for the door to be left open to dialogue.