* Russia sets conditions for meeting on Ukraine
* Says Kiev government must not ignore east and south
* EU establishes support group for Ukraine
(Adds Russia says Kerry and Lavrov hold second conversation)
By Steve Gutterman and Adrian Croft
MOSCOW/BRUSSELS, April 9 Russia told the West on
Wednesday that four-way talks between representatives of
Ukraine, Russia, the United States and European Union must focus
on fostering dialogue among Ukrainians and not on bilateral
relations among the participants.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov delivered the message in a
telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry,
the Foreign Ministry said. It said Lavrov and Kerry urged all
sides to refrain from violence in eastern and southern Ukraine.
The European Union said on Tuesday that top diplomats from
the EU, Russia, Ukraine and the United States would meet next
week to discuss the crisis, but Russia says it wants to know
more about the agenda for such a meeting.
"Lavrov noted that this format could be useful if it is
aimed not at discussing various aspects of one bilateral
relationship or another, but on helping to arrange a broad and
equal internal Ukrainian dialogue with the aim of agreeing
mutually acceptable constitutional reform," the ministry said.
Russia, which made Ukraine and the West furious by annexing
Crimea last month, does not want to be forced into talks with
the interim government in Kiev because of that administration's
role in ousting Moscow-allied President Viktor Yanukovich in
what Moscow called an armed, Western-encouraged coup.
Russia accuses the government of ignoring the rights and
interests of Russian speakers in the east and south Ukraine and
is calling for a new constitution that would grant the regions
strong powers and keep Ukraine out of NATO.
Lavrov told Kerry "the authorities in Kiev must finally
respond to the legitimate demands of eastern and southern
regions of the country," the ministry said.
Later, the ministry said Kerry had telephoned Lavrov again
and told him the United States was urging Ukraine's government
to organise nationwide dialogue to ease tension in the east and
south of the country and promote constitutional reform.
Lavrov told Kerry that "progress toward those ends will
support" efforts to hold a four-way meeting, the ministry said.
Kerry on Tuesday accused Russian agents and special forces
of stirring up separatist unrest in eastern Ukraine.
The crisis in Ukraine erupted after Yanukovich cancelled
plans to sign trade and political pacts with the EU in November
and instead sought closer ties with Russia, triggering protests
that turned bloody and drove him from power.
Moscow annexed Crimea in March following a referendum staged
after Russian forces established control over the Black Sea
peninsula in the biggest East-West crisis since the Cold War.
On Wednesday, the EU created a dedicated support group to
advise Ukraine on political and economic reforms and coordinate
with other donors and international lenders.
The Brussels-based group is intended to channel EU help and
advice for Ukraine through a single coordinating body, and
underlines EU support for the new government, which is trying to
stabilise the economy while tensions with Moscow remain high.
NATO says Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops
close to their Ukraine border.
"It is important to have this support for the ... political
and economic reforms Ukraine needs to become a sustainable,
independent, modern country," European Commission President Jose
Manuel Barroso said in a statement.
Last month, the EU said it was willing to provide $15
billion in loans and grants to Ukraine over the next several
years. The International Monetary Fund announced a $14-$18
billion loan for Kiev in return for tough economic reforms.
The European Union and Ukraine signed a landmark political
cooperation accord last month, committing to the same deal that
Yanukovich rejected in November.
Although the free trade parts of the agreement will only be
signed after Ukraine's May 25 presidential election, the
European Commission has already agreed to extend trade benefits
worth nearly 500 million euros ($689 million), removing duties
on a range of farm goods, textiles and other imports.
The support group's work could be extended to Georgia and
Moldova, which are also seeking closer ties with the EU.
(Editing by Andrew Heavens)