BRUSSELS - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Moscow will not interfere in the political unrest in neighboring Ukraine and says other nations should stay out of the dispute as well. Demonstrations have been growing since late last month, when Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych backed out of a trade deal with the European Union, saying the country needed to develop closer ties with Russia.
NATO foreign ministers meeting here for talks on Afghanistan have found themselves in a series of side discussions about the political unrest Ukraine, including questions about how the trans-Atlantic alliance might respond if Russia sent troops across the border to put down anti-government protests.
Speaking to reporters at NATO headquarters, Lavrov says he can not understand why anyone would even raise the question of Russian interference.
"It helps to create some kind of distorted picture and sends wrong signals which may cause the wrong understanding of the situation. We act on the assumption that it is up to the Ukraine. It is its domestic issue," he said.
Lavrov says Moscow does not understand the aggression of the Ukrainian opposition to President Yanukovych, who he says was exercising his rights as the nation's chief executive to ratify or not ratify agreements with the European Union.
"The fact that they were not signed, does it mean that we need to start a demonstration in any country in this case? I hope that Ukrainian politicians will be able to bring the situation into the peaceful vein and we urge everyone not to interfere," he said.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov is warning anti-government protests to stop escalating tensions as human rights groups express concern about a police crackdown on demonstrators.
The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch says it has documented incidents in which police, responding to reports of protester violence, beat people who were not behaving violently and in some cases caused head injuries.
Prime Minister Azarov has said that Ukraine wants to further integrate with the EU, but cannot afford trade losses with Russia, which is Ukraine's largest foreign investor and trading partner and opposes closer Ukraine-EU relations.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters at NATO Tuesday that President Yanukovych has "obviously made a personal decision" with which the Ukrainian people do not agree.
"They ought to be able to decide who they want to affiliate with, without a bidding war either in personal terms or in national terms, but rather based on the benefits that are available to them and the life that comes with it and the rights and benefits that they would like to be able to reach out to," he said.
The Ukrainian opposition failed to force out the government Tuesday with a parliamentary no-confidence vote. The measure won the support of 186 mainly opposition lawmakers, 40 short of the majority needed to pass.