Western politicians who advocate freedom of choice for Ukraine, but say this must be a pro-European choice, have a strange interpretation of freedom, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a security conference in Munich.
Lavrov was responding to numerous statements, including from the European Council President Hermann van Rompuy and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, which were voiced just minutes before at the conference. He also criticized Western support for Ukrainian anti-government protests, which he said ignored the darker side of the movements behind the violence there.
“What does the inciting of street protests, which are growing increasingly violent, have to do with promoting democratic principles?” Lavrov said.
“Why do we not hear statements of condemnation toward those who seize government buildings, attack and burn police officers, and voice racist and anti-Semitic slogans? Why do senior European politicians de facto encourage such actions, while at home they swiftly and harshly act to stop any impingement on the letter of the law?”
Lavrov defended the Ukrainian government’s right to stop the violence, citing a 1966 international treaty on basic political rights, which has been adopted by almost all UN members.
“The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that the freedom of expression cannot be illegal and is a basic right. But riots, violent actions give the grounds to limit those freedoms,” he said. “A state must be strong, if it wants to remain democratic.”
Ukraine has been mired in a deep political crisis since November 2013, when President Viktor Yanukovich’s government decided not to sign a free trade agreement with the EU, prompting mass pro-EU integration protests. The demonstrations remained more or less peaceful until January, when the Ukrainian parliament adopted a number of bills giving the government greater powers to restrict mass demonstrations.
Radical opposition activists responded to the legislation with violent attacks on riot police. Several days of clashes ensued, in which hundreds of police officers and protesters were injured. The Ukrainian authorities have since made a number of concessions to the opposition, including the repeal of the controversial anti-protests laws, but the tense ceasefire remains shaky at best.
Many western politicians have been openly supporting the anti-government protests and have criticized the Ukrainian government for its handling of the situation. The latest example came from US Secretary of State John Kerry, who was also speaking at the Munich security conference.
The people of Ukraine "are fighting for the right to associate with partners who will help them realize their aspirations – and they have decided that means their futures do not have to lie with one country alone, and certainly not coerced," Kerry said.
But while condemning police brutality and alleged kidnappings, torture and killings of opposition activists, foreign supporters of the opposition have barely mentioned violence and suspected crimes committed by the radical nationalist opposition.
The West has also criticized Russia for what it calls putting pressure on Ukraine not to integrate with the EU. Moscow denies these allegations, however, and insists that it has been keeping an appropriate distance from the crisis, unlike some western countries meddling in Ukraine’s internal affairs.
One of the accusations over Russia’s alleged pressure on Ukraine is over its decision to offer a $15 billion loan and a discount on gas prices to Kiev. Critics say Moscow “bought” Ukraine’s non-alliance with Europe, but Russia insists that it is simply aiding a brotherly people in a time of need, not Ukraine’s government.
Russian President Vladimir Putin this week said that Russia will provide the loan to whatever government is in Kiev, be it formed by President Yanukovich’s ruling party, or by the opposition. But Russia wants to see a working government following the resignation of outgoing PM Nikolay Azarov’s cabinet, before transferring the next installment.