March 17, 2014 / 4:23 PM / 5 years ago

Russia proposes international 'support group' on Ukraine

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia proposed on Monday creating an international “support group” to mediate in the Ukraine crisis but outlined terms that Kiev said were absolutely unacceptable and the West is unlikely to welcome.

In response to Western calls for what it terms a “contact group”, Russia’s Foreign Ministry suggested the “support group” could push for Ukraine to recognize the outcome of a referendum in which the Crimea region voted to join Russia.

The ministry also said the support group should urge Kiev to implement parts of a peace deal concluded by President Viktor Yanukovich and his opponents on February 21, hours before he fled Kiev and one day before he was removed from power by parliament.

Moscow’s initiative may be intended mainly to answer criticism abroad that it has not engaged sufficiently in diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis in Ukraine. It did not explain the significance of the different term used.

Within hours Kiev criticized the suggestion.

“The statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry looks like an ultimatum,” Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Yevhen Perebynis told the Interfax Ukraine news agency. “The position as set out is absolutely unacceptable for the Ukrainian side.”

Both the United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Russians and Ukrainians seen as responsible for Russian forces’ seizure of control in Crimea, where Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has a base.

The statement did not say who might take part in the group, but said it should urge Ukraine to adopt a new constitution setting out broad powers for the country’s regions and require Ukraine to uphold military and political neutrality.

This would imply greater power for Russian-speaking regions in the east and southeast of Ukraine, a move already promised by the Ukrainian authorities, and could be seen by Moscow as a way to prevent Ukraine joining the NATO defense alliance.

The February 21 deal called for an investigation into violence in which dozens of people were killed during anti-government protests. The violence followed harsh police intervention but Moscow blames it on radical groups among the protesters and says the new leadership in Kiev has not investigated properly.

Reporting by Thomas Grove in Moscow and Ronald Popeski in Kiev, editing by Alissa de Carbonnel and Ralph Boulton

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