April 1, 2014 / 10:28 AM / 5 years ago

Russian envoy hails EU trio's call to disarm Ukrainian groups

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A senior Russian official on Tuesday welcomed a call by three European Union nations for Ukraine’s government to distance itself from “extremist groups” and speed up the process of disarming them.

The foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland urged Kiev on Monday to implement the key principles of a February 21 deal intended to end a standoff between anti-government protesters and Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovich.

The deal, brokered by the three EU member states, included a call for groups involved in the protests to hand over illegal weapons. Russia has repeatedly said the deal must be implemented and in particular wants radical groups disarmed.

“The ministers ... called for an end to the lawlessness in Ukraine, and this is extremely important,” Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin as saying.

Ukraine’s parliament later on Tuesday ordered security forces to disarm illegal armed groups.

Moscow says Russian speakers in Ukraine are under threat from far-right militants whom it describes as neo-fascists. It has accused the EU of encouraging the protests and not doing enough to persuade Kiev to rein in far-right groups.

The February 21 deal was signed by Yanukovich and his opponents but he fled Kiev and was ousted by parliament the next day.

Days later Russian forces started taking over the Crimea region, which was annexed by Russia on March 21, five days after a referendum which backed union with the Russian Federation but was dismissed in the West as a sham.

In their statement, the three ministers encouraged the Kiev government to “accelerate the ongoing process of disarmament, re-establish the state monopoly on the use of force as well as distance itself from extremist groups.

They also urged Russia to “refrain from any further escalation” and reduce troops numbers near Ukraine’s border.

Editing by Timothy Heritage

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