Russia lambasts EU for wanting 'sphere of influence' in Ukraine

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) speaks with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier during their meeting in Moscow, on Feb 14, 2014. Mr Lavrov on Friday, Feb 14, 2014, rebuked the European Union for trying to extend its "sp
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) speaks with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier during their meeting in Moscow, on Feb 14, 2014. Mr Lavrov on Friday, Feb 14, 2014, rebuked the European Union for trying to extend its "sphere of influence" amid deteriorating relations over the political crisis in Kiev. -- PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday rebuked the European Union for trying to extend its "sphere of influence" amid deteriorating relations over the political crisis in Kiev.

"Pressuring Ukraine in one direction, while warning that it faces an 'either-or' choice - either the EU or Russia - is essentially trying to create a sphere of influence," Mr Lavrov said at a press conference with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is on a two-day visit to Moscow.

"That is obvious and no beautiful words can change that," Russia's top diplomat said.

Ukraine, an ex-Soviet nation of 46 million people, has been in chaos since November when President Viktor Yanukovych ditched a planned EU trade and political pact in favour of closer ties with Moscow, stunning pro-EU parts of the population and sparking violent protests.

Since then unrest has snowballed into a titanic tussle for Ukraine's future between Russia and the West, with both sides accusing the other of putting the squeeze on Kiev as demonstrations have continued and spread to other parts of the country.

"It seems wrong to me and impolite to daily send various emissaries while talking about a free choice. They arrive in Kiev without invitations and pressure the Ukrainian authorities to make the choice that favours the EU and US," Mr Lavrov said.

Germany's foreign policy chief Steinmeier rejected claims that the EU was meddling in Ukraine and called on all sides to find a way out of the crisis as quickly as possible.

"This is not a geopolitical chess game taking place in Ukraine. We have to allow the Ukrainians to find their own path," Mr Steinmeier said.

In a lengthy newspaper article published on Thursday, Mr Lavrov warned that Russia's relations with Europe were facing a "moment of truth" over the situation in Ukraine.

The warning came as EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele called on Ukraine to take "urgent steps" to form a new government and reform the constitution, key opposition demands in the crisis-hit country during a visit to Kiev.

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