It was not the Ukrainian government that initiated the latest outbreak of violence in Kiev, Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara told RT, commenting on the accusations by the opposition who place the blame for the bloody confrontation on officials.
“First of all, it was not the Ukrainian government [that started] the violence,” Kozhara told RT’s Egor Piskunov.
In the past several weeks, President Viktor Yanukovich and the Ukrainian government “actually refrained from all offensive actions,” Kiev’s top diplomat said. He added that it was “no secret” that Ukraine’s Western partners asked them not to resort to such actions.
“That’s why we think that today all responsibility for violence actions lies with the opposition. That’s why if we are talking sanctions I think today the leaders of the Ukrainian opposition can be a subject to those sanctions,” he said.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, the US State Department announced it is implementing visa sanctions against 20 Ukrainian officials that it believes are responsible for the use of violence. If the visa sanctions are not enough, the US will be ready for further steps in coordination with the EU to stop the violence in Ukraine, Reuters quoted a senior State Department official as saying.
Before the riots began on Tuesday, “the opposition announced that they will have a peaceful march to the premises of the Ukrainian parliament,” said Kozhara. But what was supposed to have been a peaceful demonstration turned into a violent takeover.
“The opposition leaders called the crowd of people and well-organized, aggressive, extremist groups to seize governmental buildings and to use force against police. It was the starting point of all riots happening yesterday and over the night.”
The Ukrainian government is calling on the opposition “either to distance themselves from those extremists or to take on the responsibility of the unfortunate events that happened in the last days.”
Ukraine is in continuous contact with the West, the Foreign Minister added. “We expect many top foreign visitors.” The West is telling Ukraine that “violence should be stopped and peaceful negotiations between the government and the opposition should go on,” which is the position of the President of Ukraine. “Yanukovich made a statement calling the opposition to restart negotiations. And we think that it is better to have any kind of peaceful negotiations process than to have riots on the streets.”
Kozhara stressed that pressure from the US on the Ukrainian government to refrain from offensive acts encourages some radical parts of the opposition to adopt aggressive actions. “This status of un-punishable actions inspires more and more radicals to participate in the streets riots, and attacks against the governmental offices, and against the police.”
Police have been instructed not to use firearms. However, there are numerous cases of the opposition using firearms, according to Kozhara.
“The casualties testify that the people were killed not from firearms used by the police, but mostly by handmade and hunting firearms. Many wounds of the deceased people show that they were shot from their backside. Some casualties [and accidents] happened inside the protesting crowd.”
The foreign minister described the situation in Ukraine to be “at a lowest point,” but “stable.”
“We expect that the opposition leaders will accept the invitation by the president and will restart negotiations. And we are all extremely sad and have great sympathy to the families of the deceased people who died yesterday and overnight in the street riots.”
In terms of negotiation compromises, Kozhara said that Ukraine implemented almost all of the requirements set out by the opposition. “The opposition asked to take the resignation of the government and the president did it. The opposition also asked us to cancel all laws adopted on January 16 and all those laws were cancelled...And we are ready to start negotiations with the opposition on the constitutional reform.”
The government would also like to see the same responsibility demonstrated by the opposition during talks.
“Today, it is extremely important that we have constructive negotiations and would transfer political debates from the streets to the premises of the Ukrainian parliament. And we hope very much that tomorrow and Thursday the Ukrainian parliament will be able to start working and to take important decisions the Ukrainian people need today.”
One of the problems highlighted by the foreign minister is the division within the opposition. “Our impression is that there is strong competition about who is number one among the opposition leaders. And today Ukraine is on the eve of the presidential campaign to start very soon, so there is this political competition inside the opposition.”
The foreign minister also commented on the cultural makeup of Ukraine, noting regional differences.
“We would wish that those differences would be not exploited by political parties. Today, Ukraine should concentrate on the points which unite all Ukrainians, not divide us.”
The foreign minister concluded his statement by saying that even though Ukraine takes advice from both West and East, it asks all foreign governments to “respect the right of the Ukrainian people for self-determination.”
Mass opposition protests have been sweeping through Ukraine for months, since November 21, when Yanukovich refused to sign an association agreement with the EU. On Tuesday, after three weeks of relative calm, bloody clashes between radical opposition groups and law enforcers broke out again.
The latest violence in the capital has claimed the lives of at least 26 people, including 10 officers. Hundreds have been injured.