GENEVA – Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday sought to justify the use of Russian troops streaming into neighboring Ukraine's Crimea region as a necessary protection for his country's citizens living there, and called on Kiev to return to Feb. 21 deal reached between opposing Ukrainian sides that Moscow did not sign.
The use of Russian troops is necessary "until the normalization of the political situation" in Ukraine, Lavrov said at an opening of a month-long session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.
"We are talking here about protection of our citizens and compatriots, about protection of the most fundamental of the human rights - the right to live, and nothing more," Lavrov said.
Ukraine has accused Russia of a military invasion and has called on the Kremlin to withdraw its troops. Lavrov dismissed the criticism, and said that "information is coming in about preparations for new provocations that are being committed, including against the Russian Black Sea fleet," which is based in Crimea, a strategic peninsula now effectively under Russian control.
"Those who are trying to interpret the situation as a sort of aggression and threatening us with sanctions and boycotts, these are the same partners who have been consistently and vigorously encouraging the political powers close to them to declare ultimatums and renounce dialogue," Lavrov said. "We call upon them to show a responsibility and to set aside geopolitical calculations and put the interests of the Ukrainian people above all."
Lavrov called on Ukraine to return to the Feb. 21 agreement signed by pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych aimed at ending his country's three-month political crisis. Yanukovych fled the country after signing the deal with the opposition and foreign ministers of France, German and Poland to hold early elections this fall and surrender much of his powers. Russian envoy, who was part of those talks, did not sign the agreement and a key Russian lawmaker criticized it, but since Yanukovych's departure Moscow has insisted on its implementation as one of their key demands.
Lavrov said Yanukovych respected the agreement, but the opposition "did nothing."
"The illegal arms have not been relinquished, the government buildings and streets of Kiev have not been completely freed, radicals maintain control of cities," Lavrov said. "Instead of a promised national unity government a 'government of the victors' has been created."
Before meeting with Lavrov, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he would emphasize ways for Russia to defuse the crisis. Ban also has been discussing proposals ideas to do this, which include the creation of a "contact group" on Ukraine under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is chaired by Swiss President and Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter.
"I have repeatedly emphasized that it is critical to ensure full respect for - and the preservation of - Ukraine's independence, unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity," Ban said. "It is now of utmost importance to restore calm, to de-escalate tensions immediately through a dialogue."