Ukraine's minorities 'afraid for their lives' – Russia
Ethnic minorities in Ukraine are 'living in fear' after the removal of the country's president and the coming to power of interim authorities that include right-wing nationalists, Russia's foreign ministry has claimed.
The statement by the ministry was in line with Russia's frequent contention that Ukraine's large ethnic Russian community faces repression under the new government that Moscow characterises as fascist.
The ministry statement raises the stakes on the issue, saying that ethnic Germans, Hungarians and Czechs in Ukraine also feel in peril.
"They are unsettled by the unstable political situation in the country and are seriously afraid for their lives," the statement said, without citing specific incidents.
Russia has sent large numbers of troops to areas near the Ukrainian border and speculation is strong that Moscow could use protection of ethnic Russians as a pretext for a military incursion.
The rising tensions led to moves by Ukraine's far-right radical group Right Sector to set 'guards' outside the parliament buildings in Kiev.
Tensions between Ukraine's ethnic Russians and Ukrainian speakers continue to plague the country in the wake of the removal of president Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in February after months of protests.
The Crimea region, where ethnic Russians are a majority, voted this month to secede from Ukraine and Russia has formally annexed the Black Sea peninsula, a move that western countries have denounced as illegitimate.
Mr Yanukovych yesterday issued a statement calling for an "all-Ukrainian referendum" to determine the status of Ukraine's regions, according to Russian news reports. The reports did not specify if he envisioned referenda in each region or a national vote, nor did he say what should be voted on.
Proposals have been floated by Russia and some politicians to federalise Ukraine – giving the regions more autonomy. The interim authorities reject such a move.
Mr Yanukovych's biggest rival, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, attacked the statement, accusing him of being "a tool aimed at destroying the independence of Ukraine".
Meanwhile, Moldova's prime minister has appealed to the EU, US and Russia to prevent a break-up of his country amid concerns that Russia could annex the country's separatist Trans-Dniester region.
Iurie Leanca said he was in "active contact" with Western leaders to express security concerns affecting Moldova following Moscow's annexation of Crimea.
"The Europeans, the Americans and the Russians must make every effort to avert the scenario of destabilisation," Mr Leanca said after meeting Poland's prime minister Donald Tusk, who was visiting to support Moldova's EU membership bid.
Trans-Dniester is not internationally recognised but is supported by Russia. It has no border with Russia but does border Russian-speaking areas of southern Ukraine. In 2006, the region voted in a referendum to join Russia.
Separately, the US House of Representatives is putting off until next week a vote on a bill that would supply aid to cash-strapped Ukraine and sanction Russia for its annexation of Crimea.
Senate and House congressional aides say lawmakers want more time to vote on the bill. However, they see no obstacles to its passage.
If signed into law, the bill would provide $1bn (about €730m) in loan guarantees to Ukraine and further sanction Russia for its military incursion into the Ukrainian peninsula.
Yesterday, China's president Xi Jinping said China would not take sides with the West or Russia over Ukraine, disappointing any hopes Beijing might add its weight to international pressure on Moscow for annexing Crimea." China does not have any private interests in the Ukraine question," he told a news conference with German chancellor Angela Merkel. "All parties involved should work for a political and diplomatic solution to the conflict."