MUNICH, Germany (AFP) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rounded on the European Union Saturday, accusing its leaders of interfering in Ukraine's internal affairs and helping stoke violent anti-government protests.
"Why are many prominent EU politicians actually encouraging such actions although back home they are quick to severely punish any violations of the law?" Mr Lavrov told a panel discussion at the Munich Security Conference.
"What does incitement of increasingly violent street protests have to do with promoting democracy?," he said in response to European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who earlier said Ukraine must be free to choose its own future, a future which lay in Europe.
"Why don't we hear condemnation of those who seize and hold government buildings, attack the police, torture police, use racist and anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans?" Mr Lavrov said.
However, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said at the same conference, that the United States and the European Union support the people of Ukraine as they seek a stronger democracy.
The people of Ukraine “are fighting for the right to associate with partners who will help them realize their aspirations – and they have decided that means their futures do not have to lie with one country alone, and certainly not coerced”, he said. “The United States and EU stand with the people of Ukraine in that fight,” Mr Kerry said.
EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton is due to visit Kiev again next week, having previously met the government and opposition figures several times there to call for a peaceful dialogue.
Other prominent figures have also been frequent visitors to Kiev, drawing a strong government and Russian response although Mr Lavrov's remarks Saturday were unusually blunt in comparison.
Describing the situation in Ukraine as raising "fundamental questions" about EU-Russia relations, he said that in this case "a choice is being imposed."
Europe's future should "not be about new spheres of influence... it should be about how all countries" cooperate in the interest of all, he said.
The EU and Russia have been at loggerheads over Ukraine since President Viktor Yanukovych ditched an EU association accord in November under pressure from a Moscow seen to be trying to bring its former Soviet satellite back into the fold.
Mr Yanukovych's decision sparked off massive anti-government protests, which turned increasingly violent last month after he rushed through a series of curbs on protests.
The move only prompted an escalation of the violence on the streets and the president then cancelled them and accepted the resignation of the government.
Ukraine is a major talking point at the Munich Security Conference and top opposition leaders were due later Saturday to meet US Secretary of State John Kerry amid concern about possible military intervention in Kiev.
The prospect of that meeting may have especially infuriated Russia, coming as the White House said it was consulting with Congress over possible sanctions on Ukraine.