(CNSNews.com) – As European Union foreign ministers prodded by the U.S. mull sanctions in response to the political crisis in Ukraine, Russia said that “Western countries that interfered” shared the blame for the violence in Kiev, which it called an attempt to topple the government by force.
Moscow also warned that any sanctions targeting Ukraine’s leaders would amount to siding with those using violence to try to bring down an elected government.
“We cannot characterize the events in Ukraine as anything other than an attempted coup d’etat and forceful seizure of power,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a series of Twitter posts, referring to clashes between riot police and protestors in Kiev in which at least 25 people have been killed since Tuesday afternoon.
“Undoubtedly, the blame lies with extremists, who have striven to drive the situation to a forceful scenario during these months,” Lavrov said. “A major share of responsibility rests with opposition members, who have rejected compromises and advanced unlawful demands. The blame for this also rests with many Western countries that interfered in the events by courting the protesters.”In similar vein, ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Lavrov as saying during a meeting with Gulf states’ ministers in Kuwait, “The West directly flirts with [Ukrainian] militants and threatens to impose sanctions.”
In Paris, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that the French, German and Polish foreign ministers would visit Kiev on Thursday to “gather the latest information regarding the situation on the ground,” then return to Brussels “to discuss the possibility of sanctions or whatever steps might be appropriate.”
“We believe the choice is clear, and we are talking about the possibility of sanctions or other steps with our friends in Europe and elsewhere in order to try to create the environment for compromise,” he said.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, appearing with Kerry, did not mention sanctions in his own brief comment, saying merely that after the visit to Kiev to encourage dialogue, “we should be back in Brussels to take the decisions which are necessary.”
The U.S. and European Union (E.U.) have not been in lockstep over the question of sanctions against Ukraine, where protests erupted after President Viktor Yanukovich last November announced a sudden U-turn on closer ties with the E.U. in favor stronger links to Russia.
Frustrations over those differences were evidently behind a senior State Department official’s blunt dismissal of the E.U. in a private phone conversation that was recorded, leaked and posted online early this month.
As recently as Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told visiting Ukrainian opposition leaders Vitali Klitschko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk that she did not support sanctions.
Merkel spokesperson Steffen Seibert said after their meeting in Berlin that the chancellor had voiced “sympathy for the legitimate concerns of the Ukrainian people” but said she did not agree with Klitschko’s appeals for sanctions against government figures.
Klitschko has been calling for E.U. travel bans and the freezing of government officials’ bank accounts – steps also suggested earlier by the U.S. State Department.
By Wednesday Merkel had shifted. Speaking alongside French President Francois Hollande in Paris, the German leader said the E.U. foreign ministers at their meeting Thursday would “decide exactly which sanctions to put in place,” to send a strong message.
Russia’s ambassador to the E.U., Vladimir Chizhov, said imposing sanctions would be “inopportune at the very least and untimely in any case,” ITAR-Tass reported.
Taking such measures against government figures would mean that the E.U. “unequivocally sides with the forces trying to overthrow, by using illegal means, the democratically-elected government and the president,” Chizhov said.
In further Twitter messages directed at Western governments on Wednesday, Lavrov warned “against attempts to impose mediation” in Ukraine, adding, “Our European partners have already overmediated there.”
He urged “everyone” to put the interests of the Ukrainian people “above their own geopolitical intentions.”
The Ukraine crisis has deepened tensions between Moscow and Western governments, already at odds over the Syrian civil war, missile defense in Europe and Russia’s human rights record at home.