Ukraine said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reference to the country’s southeast being historically part of Russia was a “worrying signal” that showed he’s trying to shift borders again after annexing Crimea.
“It is a very worrying signal, because President Putin is now trying to revise the borders, the border that exists and was internationally recognized after World War II and after the dissolution of the Soviet Union,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia told Bloomberg Television today.
Tensions rose in the former Soviet republic this week, with deadly clashes between government forces and pro-Russian militias. The east and south of Ukraine are historically parts of Russia, Putin said in a televised question-and-answer session in Moscow today. The Russian leader earlier denounced as a historical injustice a 1954 decision by then-Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev to transfer the Crimea from Russia to Ukraine.
“Let me remind everyone, this is New Russia, using the terminology of Czarist Russia,” Putin said, adding that regions including Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk and Odessa weren’t part of Ukraine until last century. “These are the territories that were passed to Ukraine in the 1920s by the Soviet government. God knows why they did that.”
While a meeting of the top U.S., Russian, European Union and Ukrainian diplomats in Geneva yielded an agreement aimed at de-escalating tensions, Deshchytsia said his government remains skeptical.
“If we are looking at what is going on in eastern Ukraine, it is more or less the same scenario as in Crimea,” he said.
Putin said during the televised question-and-answer session that he hopes he won’t have to send troops to protect the rights of Russian-speakers in the southeast of Ukraine, adding that he didn’t want to discuss what “red line” might trigger Russian military action.
The U.S. and its European allies have threatened to ratchet up sanctions on Russia, their former Cold War enemy, if it doesn’t act to calm the situation in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine forces this week started a campaign against pro-Russian separatists who have seized government buildings and NATO estimates 40,000 Russian troops are massed on the border.
An agreement released after the four-way talks in Switzerland called for all illegal armed groups in Ukraine to be disarmed and seized buildings to be vacated. An amnesty will be granted to protesters. A mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will help oversee the measures.
“We continue to be concerned about the activities of these paramilitary groups in eastern Ukraine,” Deshchytsia said. “We are very much concerned about the deployment of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border.”