GENEVA, April 17 /ITAR-TASS/. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after a four-party meeting on Ukraine on Thursday the Ukrainian servicemen had been mobilized into the army by an illegitimate decree to crack down on mass protests.
“As for our servicemen, they are staying in their territory. Your army which is carrying out mobilization is also doing it in its territory. The only difference is that our troops do not fight against their own people while yours have been, in fact, been mobilized by an illegal order to crack down on mass protests,” Lavrov told a Ukrainian journalist who had asked the minister about alleged concentration of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine.
“As for Crimea, it no longer has any bearing on this matter. The people of Crimea made their choice and we recognized it. We are not building up our armed forces there. We have a base (in Crimea) where servicemen and sailors do their regular service. Their strength does not exceed the numbers required to ensure the base’s normal functioning,” Lavrov said.
He explained that reports on increasing troop numbers could be linked to the fact that most servicemen of the Ukrainian Black Sea fleet chose to acquire Russian citizenship.
“I assure you: there are no and will not be any extra troops in Crimea or in the territory of any other region in Russia if that contradicts its international commitments,” Lavrov said.
Meanwhile, the minister denied allegations that Russian troops, agents and infiltrators were operating in Ukraine.
“There were Russian servicemen in Crimea who stayed in the territory of the Russian naval base whose presence in Ukraine’s territory was absolutely legitimate,” the Russian foreign minister said after the talks in Geneva.
“Those servicemen were put on high alert when people’s protests started (in Ukraine) and when the Right Sector movement and other bandits tried to penetrate into Crimea with an aim to repeat the ‘maidan’ scenario. At that time, our servicemen were ready to thwart such plans. But (Crimea’s) self-defence units did that themselves,” Lavrov went on to say.
“Today Mr. Putin repeated what he had said several weeks ago; there have never been our servicemen, agents or infiltrators in Ukraine,” the Russian foreign minister said, noting Russia did not intend to send troops to Ukraine.
“We do not have the slightest desire to send troops to Ukraine where brotherly people live. That would contradict Russia’s vital interests,” Lavrov said.