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Ukraine ‘Close to Civil War as You Can Get,’ Russia Says

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pauses during a Bloomberg Television interview at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow. Photographer: Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr./Bloomberg

Ukraine “is as close to civil war as you can get” and a solution must be found that satisfies all regions, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

Russia has “no intention” of sending its troops anywhere, Lavrov said in an interview today with Bloomberg Television at the Foreign Ministry building in central Moscow. While holding Russia accountable for Ukraine’s presidential election on May 25 is “ridiculous,” the vote can’t be legitimate if it’s impeded by fighting, he said.

There’s already a “real war” between government forces and separatist fighters in the country’s east and south, Lavrov said. Any attempt to grant NATO membership to Ukraine would be “an issue for Russia” and its inclusion in the alliance would hurt European security, he said.

Russia is locked in the worst standoff since the end of the Cold War against the U.S. and Europe over Ukraine in the run-up to the presidential election. Rebels yesterday killed seven Ukrainian soldiers and wounded eight others during an ambush in a breakaway eastern region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin last week for the first time signaled his endorsement of the election as a “step in the right direction,” while noting that it wouldn’t resolve the crisis if Ukrainian citizens don’t understand how their rights will be guaranteed.

Wide Autonomy

Russia, which doesn’t recognize the government in Kiev that took power after the February ouster of Kremlin-backed President Viktor Yanukovych, is pushing for wide autonomy in Ukraine’s mainly Russian-speaking southern and eastern regions.

Russia this week urged national dialogue to resolve the crisis after saying it “respects” the results of two disputed referendums in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions that separatists said backed independence. Leaders of the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic have asked to join Russia.

Ukraine and its allies accuse Putin, who annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March after a plebiscite on the Black Sea peninsula, of stoking unrest that’s threatening to tear apart the former Soviet republic. The U.S. says Russia has massed about 40,000 troops on Ukraine’s border and is helping insurgents who’ve seized government buildings and television towers in at least 10 cities.

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