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Russian FM: Western Support for Ukrainian Protests a 'Bad Example'

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says the West set a "bad example" by supporting Ukrainian protesters that Russia has accused of an "unconstitutional" coup.

Lavrov spoke Wednesday in Madrid alongside his Spanish counterpart, José Manuel García-Margallo. Lavrov is meeting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry later in the day in Paris, where both officials will be attending a conference on Lebanon.

Western leaders have been calling for a de-escalation of tensions sparked when Russian forces moved into Ukraine's Crimean peninsula late last week. The West has suggested the crisis could be resolved if Russia pulls back its forces to their bases on the Black Sea peninsula and allows in international monitors.

But Lavrov said Wednesday that Russia cannot order pro-Russian armed forces in Crimea, which he described as "self defense" forces, back to bases, because they are not Russian forces. He said Russia's Black Sea fleet personnel are in their normal positions.

And he said allowing international monitors into Crimea is not Russia's decision, but the decision of Ukrainian and Crimean authorities.

NATO said Tuesday the Russian military presence in Ukraine presents "serious implications for the security and stability of the Euro-Atlantic area."

The Western defense alliance and Russia have agreed to meet Wednesday in Brussels for talks on the crisis in Ukraine -- their first public contact since the Crimea crisis began.



Kerry was in Kyiv on Tuesday to meet with Ukrainian officials and said the United States wants to see a peaceful resolution to the crisis.



"It is diplomacy and respect for sovereignty, not unilateral force, that can best solve disputes like this in the 21st century. President Obama and I want to make it clear to Russia and to everybody in the world that we are not seeking confrontation. There's a better way for Russia to pursue its legitimate interests in Ukraine."



At a fundraiser Tuesday night, Mr. Obama said Russia is breaching international law and using troops to "try to force the hands of the Ukrainian people." He told reporters earlier in the day that the international community wants to make sure the rights of Ukrainians are upheld.



"I think everybody recognizes that although Russia has legitimate interests in what happens in a neighboring state, that does not give it the right to use force as a means of exerting influence inside of that state."



He called on Russia to open talks with the interim Ukrainian government, and to allow international monitors to determine whether ethnic Russians in Ukraine are under threat, as alleged by Moscow.

Mr. Obama's comments followed a news conference in Moscow by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who defended his country's military intervention in Crimea.

The Russian leader said he reserves the right to protect Russians in Ukraine. But he also insisted that gunmen blocking Ukrainian military units in the region are "local self-defense forces," not Russian soldiers.

President Obama countered that Moscow has no legal right to intervene militarily, while acknowledging that Mr. Putin "seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations."

The Obama administration also announced a $1 billion energy subsidy package for Ukraine, which is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

The Crimean peninsula was placed under Ukrainian control in 1954 by then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. It remained part of Ukraine when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Crimea has a tiny border with Russia on its far eastern point, and the Crimean port of Sevastapol is home to Russia's Black Sea fleet.

Most residents of Crimea are ethnic Russians, but the region also is home to ethnic Muslim Tatars, who generally show disdain for Russia.

Ukrainian officials say Moscow has sent 16,000 troops into Crimea since last week.

Ukraine's troubles began in November, when president Viktor Yanukovych backed out of a trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties and economic aid from Russia. The move triggered weeks of pro-Western anti-government demonstrations in Kyiv and elsewhere in Ukraine, and forced the pro-Russian Yanukovych to flee the capital in late February.

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