Russia’s foreign minister met with his Ukrainian counterpart for the first time on Monday and demanded more autonomy for Ukraine’s regions, even as Ukraine under pressure ordered its troops out from Crimea after the Russian seizure of military bases there.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in an unexpected move agreed to the highest level meeting yet between the Russian government and a representative of the new Ukrainian government that Moscow has opposed vociferously over the past month.
The meeting took place on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in The Hague, Netherlands.
Lavrov told Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia that Russia continues to want constitutional changes in Ukraine that would give more autonomy to all regions of Ukraine.
Russia is eager to retain its influence in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking eastern regions and prevent Ukraine from joining NATO. It has pushed for the new Ukraine to become a loose federation — demands the new Ukrainian government has rejected.
Before the meeting, Deshchytsia said his government fears a Russian military buildup near Ukraine’s border. “The possibility of a military invasion is very high. We are very much worried about this concentration of troops on our eastern border,” he said.
The concerns have been deepened by the intense military pressure Russia has applied in Crimea since Russian President Vladimir Putin formally annexed the peninsula last week. Russian forces have commandeered ships and broken into walled military installations with armored personnel carriers.