MOSCOW, March 15 (Reuters) - Russia is considering peaceful citizens’ requests for defence in Ukraine, Moscow’s foreign ministry said on Saturday, in a further sign that Russian military intervention in Ukraine may extend beyond Crimea.
Two weeks ago President Vladimir Putin was authorised by parliament to deploy armed forces in Ukraine to protect ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers after the fall of pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovich to mass protests.
“Russia is receiving numerous appeals with requests for defence of peaceful citizens. These appeals will be considered,” the foreign ministry statement said.
After talks in London on Friday with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow “does not and cannot have” plans to invade easetrn Ukraine. However, his ministry also said Russia reserves the right to defend its compatriots.
In its statement on Saturday, the ministry said that Ukrainian armed militants are continuing to act lawlessly, including from Right Sector, a Ukrainian nationalist group.
It said that on March 14 two people were killed in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv when militants opened fire on peaceful demonstrators opposed to the new government in Ukraine, with others wounded.
Commenting on the same incident, Ukrainian authorities have accused Russia of provoking it.
The Russian Foreign Ministry statement cited “alarming information” that columns of armed militants from Right Sector were leaving Donetsk, Kharkiv and Lugansk in order to open an “eastern front”.
It added that a decision by Ukraine’s parliament to legitimise Right Sector and other radicals by turning them into a type of National Guard was dangerous - a view it said was shared by both Kerry and Lavrov during their London meeting.
“Sergei Lavrov insistently called on John Kerry to use the influence of Washington on Kiev to stop the rampage of the ultra-nationalists,” the statement said.