Russia accuses US of fueling Ukrainian crisis

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks to the media after his talks with his Fijian counterpart Inoke Kubuabola after their meeting in Moscow, Russia, Friday, June 27, 2014.Lavrov welcomed the Ukrainian president’s intention to extend a cease-fire in the east, but warned Ukraine against putting ultimatums to insurgents. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks to the media after his talks with his Fijian counterpart Inoke Kubuabola after their meeting in Moscow, Russia, Friday, June 27, 2014.Lavrov welcomed the Ukrainian president’s intention to extend a cease-fire in the east, but warned Ukraine against putting ultimatums to insurgents. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, welcomes his Fijian counterpart Inoke Kubuabola for the talks in Moscow, Russia, Friday, June 27, 2014. Lavrov and Kubuabola discuss prospects for deepening bilateral cooperation and “compare notes” on international problems, Russia’s Foreign Ministry official said.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Pro-Russian fighters dance and fire in the air in an Ukrainian military unit captured by pro-Russian fighters in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Friday, June 27, 2014. ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’s’ fighters captured the Ukrainian military unit in Donetsk on Thursday, June 26. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

A pro-Russian fighter stands behind a damaged gate of an Ukrainian military unit captured by pro-Russian fighters in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Friday, June 27, 2014. ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’s’ fighters captured the Ukrainian military unit in Donetsk on Thursday, June 26. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, center, poses with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, left, and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, right, during an EU Summit in Brussels on Friday, June 27, 2014. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has signed up to a trade and economic pact with the European Union, saying it may be the “most important day” for his country since it became independent from the Soviet Union. (AP Photo)

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s foreign minister on Saturday accused the United States of encouraging Ukraine to challenge Moscow and heavily weighing in on the European Union.

Speaking in televised remarks Saturday, Sergey Lavrov said that “our American colleagues still prefer to push the Ukrainian leadership toward a confrontational path.”

He added that chances for settling the Ukrainian crisis would have been higher if it only depended on Russia and Europe.

Lavrov spoke after Friday’s European Union summit, which decided not to immediately impose new sanctions on Russia for destabilizing eastern Ukraine, but gave the Russian government and pro-Russian insurgents there until Monday to take steps to improve the situation.

Ukraine on Friday signed a free-trade pact with the EU, the very deal that angered Russia and triggered the bloodshed and political convulsions of the past seven months that brought Russia-West relations to their lowest point since the Cold War times.

In November, under pressure from Moscow, a former Ukrainian president dumped the EU pact, fueling huge protests that eventually drove him from power. Moscow responded by annexing the mainly Russian-speaking Crimean Peninsula in March, and pro-Russian separatists soon rose up in Ukraine’s eastern provinces.

The U.S. and the EU slapped travel bans and asset freezes on members of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and threatened to impose more crippling sanctions against entire sectors of Russia’s economy if the Kremlin fails to de-escalate the crisis.

The EU leaders on Friday gave Russia and the rebels until Monday to take steps to ease the violence, including releasing all captives, retreating from border checkpoints, agreeing on a way to verify the cease-fire and launching “substantial negotiations” on Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s peace plan.

The weeklong cease-fire, which both sides have been accused of violating, expired at 10 p.m. local time (1900 GMT), but Poroshenko quickly declared its extension until 10 p.m. local time Monday.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Mykhailo Koval was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying Saturday that the situation in the east was largely quiet overnight and there were no casualties among Ukrainian troops despite sporadic shooting.

Lavrov acknowledged that Russia has some leverage with the rebels, pointing at their move this week to release four observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe after weeks of captivity, but claimed that Moscow’s influence is limited.

“There are reasons to believe that they hear us on other aspects of Russian position regarding the crisis in Ukraine, but that doesn’t mean that they immediately move to heed our calls,” he said.

Four other OSCE observers are still being held, but a leader of the insurgents promised Friday to free them “in the nearest days.”

Following talks with a troika including a former Ukrainian president who represented the Kiev government, the Russian ambassador and an OSCE envoy, rebel leader Alexander Borodai also promised to abide by the extended cease-fire.

He rejected the EU leaders’ demand to retreat from three checkpoints on the border with Russia captured by the rebels, but invited OSCE to send its monitors to the border crossings and any other areas in the east.

Associated Press

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