An Interior Ministry member stands guard at an Ukrainian
Interior Ministry base in Donetsk. REUTERS/Stringer
Russia says it has "no intention" of invading eastern
Ukraine, responding to Western warnings over a military buildup
on the border following Moscow's annexation of the Crimean
The comments by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were followed
by news that he would meet EU Secretary of State John Kerry
in Paris on Sunday, as both sides moved to ease tensions in
the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War.
Speaking on Russian television, Lavrov reinforced a message
from President Vladimir Putin that Russia would settle - at
least for now - for control over Crimea despite massing
thousands of troops near Ukraine's eastern border.
"We have absolutely no intention of - or interest in -
crossing Ukraine's borders," Lavrov said.
Putin called EU President Barack Obama on Friday to discuss a
EU diplomatic proposal, with the West alarmed at the threat
to Ukraine's eastern flank from what EU officials say may be
more than 40,000 Russian soldiers.
Lavrov added, however, that Russia was ready to protect the
rights of Russian speakers, referring to what Moscow sees as
threats to the lives of compatriots in eastern Ukraine since
Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovich was deposed as president in
The West imposed sanctions on Russia, including visa bans for
some of Putin's inner circle, after Moscow annexed Crimea
this month following a referendum on union of the
Russian-majority region with the Russian Federation which the
West said was illegal.
The West has threatened tougher sanctions targeting Russia's
stuttering economy if Moscow sends more troops to Ukraine.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in an interview
with Germany's Focus magazine published on Saturday, said the
alliance was "extremely worried".
"We view it as a concrete threat to Ukraine and see the
potential for further interventions," said Rasmussen, who is
due to leave the post in October.
"I fear that it is not yet enough for him (Putin). I am
worried that we are not dealing with rational thinking as
much as with emotions, the yearning to rebuild Russia's old
sphere of influence in its immediate neighbourhood."
EU State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Lavrov and
Kerry would meet on Sunday in the French capital. They spoke
by phone on Saturday, following up on the Putin-Obama call on
The White House said Obama had told Putin that Russia must
pull back its troops and not move deeper into the ex-Soviet
republic. The Kremlin said Putin had suggested "examining
possible steps the global community can take to help
stabilise the situation."
Ukraine remains deeply divided over protests that led to
Yanukovich's ousting and many eastern Russian-speaking
regions are sceptical about the policies of the new
pro-Western government in Kiev.
Yanukovich called on Friday for each of the country's regions
to hold a referendum on their status within Ukraine, instead
of the presidential election planned for May 25.
That election is shaping up as a context between former prime
minister Yulia Tymoshenko and billionaire confectionary
oligarch Petro Poroshenko, after boxer-turned-politician
Vitaly Klitschko withdrew on Saturday.
Lavrov called for "deep constitutional reform" in Ukraine, a
sprawling country of 46 million people divided between those
who see their future in closer ties with Europe and mainly
Russian speakers in the east who look to former Soviet master
"Frankly speaking, we don't see any other way for the steady
development of the Ukrainian state apart from as a
federation," Lavrov said.
Each region, he said, would have jurisdiction over its
economy, finances, culture, language, education and "external
economic and cultural connections with neighbouring countries
"Given the proportion of native Russians (in Ukraine) we
propose this and we are sure there is no other way," Lavrov
said, and Russia had briefed Western powers and others on the
There was also a bid for regional devolution within Crimea.
Its Tatar community, an indigenous minority who were
persecuted under Soviet rule and largely boycotted last
month's referendum on joining Russia, want autonomy on the
Black Sea peninsula, the Tatar leader said on Saturday.