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Russia accuses EU of seeking ‘sphere of influence’ in Ukraine

– Russia accused the European Union on Friday of seeking to create a “sphere of influence” on its borders by pressing Ukraine to choose closer ties with the Western bloc at the expense of relations with Moscow.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sharpened Russian allegations of Western interference in its neighbor’s turbulent affairs at a joint news conference after talks with his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Steinmeier had said that “no one should have an interest in lighting the fuse on the powder keg” and Ukraine must not become a “geopolitical chess game”. He said it was up to the conflicting parties in Kiev to find a solution.

Russia and the EU have exchanged recriminations since Kiev’s decision in November to shelve plans to sign a trade agreement with Brussels and to seek closer links with Russia instead, a move that sparked mass unrest in Ukraine.

The protests, in which at least six people have been killed, led President Viktor Yanukovich to sack his prime minister and he has until the end of this month to name a successor.

In many respects, the showdown over Ukraine is about reordering power and influence in Europe following the 1991 collapse of the Communist Soviet Union. The EU’s enlargement process of the past decade has drawn in several former Soviet republics and former East European satellites of Moscow.

Moscow has pushed back, and is now trying to set up its own Eurasian customs union to rival the EU, preferably with Ukraine, a sprawling country of 46 million with whom it shares deep historical and cultural roots.

Lavrov warned the West against interceding in the crisis, saying Ukrainians should be left to solve their own affairs.

“NICE WORDS” NOT GOOD ENOUGH

“I fully agree with Frank-Walter that there should be no spheres of influence. But dragging Ukraine to one side, telling it that it needs to choose ‘either or’, either with the EU or with Russia, (the European Union) is in fact trying to create such a sphere of influence,” he said.

“That is obvious and no nice words can change that.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet Ukrainian opposition leaders Vitaly Klitschko and Arseny Yatsenyuk in Berlin on Monday, her spokesman said.

During talks in Moscow on Thursday evening and Friday Steinmeier and Lavrov discussed the possibility of an international organization mandated to mediate between the conflicting sides in Ukraine.

Germany has suggested the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as one possibility. The OSCE, the continent’s main rights watchdog, is now under a Swiss presidency and counts Russia, Ukraine and European Union countries as members.

Ukraine would have to ask for such mediation, however.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and top EU officials held “clear the air” talks in Brussels at the end of January. Russia stressed it wanted more a detailed study of the economic impact of ex-Soviet republics entering a trade association with the EU and how this might affect the competitiveness of Russian firms.

Lavrov on Friday urged an end to the “politicization of economic and business ties” and said Moscow wanted to see a trade area between the EU and Eurasian zones.

Steinmeier stressed that if future crises such as that in Ukraine were to be avoided, then Moscow and Brussels would have to discuss longer-term aims with a mutual pledge of transparency.

“We can’t avoid the fact that due to history, and the long enduring division of different systems, we have different perceptions in East and West. But if we are aware of this, then we can create trust,” Steinmeier said.

“It is clear there was competition over Ukraine and recent history teaches us that was not helpful. Nor was it helpful for relations between the European Union and Russia.”

Source:GABRIELA BACZYNSKA AND ALEXANDRA HUDSON,Reuters

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