THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met for the first time Monday with his Ukrainian counterpart to discuss the crisis that has grown into one of the gravest security challenges to Europe since the end of the Cold War.
Lavrov, who spoke to reporters after meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia in The Hague, where both attended an international security summit, said he outlined the steps that Moscow believes the new Ukrainian government has to make to defuse the crisis.
The meeting was the first encounter between the two ministers since last month’s ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president and Russia’s annexation of Crimea. While Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that contacts between Russian and Ukrainian officials have continued, the meeting Monday was at the highest level since the new Ukrainian government took power a month ago.
Lavrov, who also met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, said he reaffirmed Moscow’s demand for a constitutional reform in Ukraine that would give more autonomy to all regions of Ukraine. Russia, eager to retain its influence in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking eastern regions and prevent Ukraine from joining NATO, has pushed for Ukraine to become federation — demands the new Ukrainian government has rejected.
Deshchytsia, who spoke to reporters before his meeting with Lavrov, said the Ukrainian government has remained concerned about 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.
Lavrov also said Moscow is unfazed by the West’s intention to snub the Group of Eight summit that Russia was to host in Sochi in June.
Lavrov said the G-8 format has been useful in discussing global crises — such as the Iran nuclear standoff or the Syrian civil war — but said Russia “will not be clinging to this format.” He added that Russia sees the broader Group of 20 nations as a more efficient format.