Russia urges West to back ‘federal solution’ for Ukraine

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MOSCOW/PARIS

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday called on Western powers to back a proposal for Ukraine’s Russian-speaking regions to have greater powers in a “federal” structure.
“If our Western partners are ready, then Russia, the United States and the European Union could form a support group on Ukraine and formulate shared appeals to those now in power in Kiev,” Lavrov said in an interview with Russian state television.
This would lead to talks between “all Ukrainian political forces without exception, naturally excluding armed radicals” and would end in a new constitution allowing for a “federal structure” with greater regional autonomy, he said.
The interview was broadcast as Lavrov was due to meet US Secretary of State John Kerry for hastily arranged talks in Paris later Sunday.
Russia backs the idea of greater regional autonomy because millions of Russian speakers are concentrated in Ukraine’s eastern regions as well as in Crimea.
This would “protect the rights of those who live in Ukraine, primarily of course the Russian population which is important to us,” Lavrov said.
Lavrov acknowledged that his first talks with Ukraine’s interim foreign minister Andriy Deshchytsya last week ended without any agreement on Moscow’s federalisation plan.
He added that Deshchytsya also rejected a proposal to make Russian the second official language in Ukraine.
Addressing fears of Russia’s massing troops on Ukraine’s borders, Lavrov said that “we do not pursue any evil designs and are open to honest talks as before.”
MEET KERRY:
Separately, US Secretary of State John Kerry met Lavrov, hoping to ease global tensions over the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea and sudden buildup of troops near Ukraine.
The latest attempt to resolve the worst East-West standoff in the post-Cold War era follows a sudden call placed by Vladimir Putin on Friday to US President Barack Obama — the first by the Russian leader since he sent troops into Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula in response to the February 22 fall in Kiev of a pro-Kremlin regime.
Obama had spent the prior week touring Europe in a bid to reassure jittery allies of Washington’s firm resolve to dampen Putin’s expansionist passions with the threat of punishing economic sanctions and the reinforcement of NATO forces along Russia’s western flank.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had said ahead of his Paris meeting with Kerry that Moscow had “absolutely no intention and no interests in crossing the Ukrainian border”.
But the two sides still remain far apart on both the content and format of the talks.
The Russians in particular are seething at the idea that they are responding to a diplomatic solution drafted by the Obama administrations.