Crisis in Ukraine is out of control, Russia claims
Russia warned last night that the political crisis in neighbouring Ukraine was "out of control" after a third night of violence between police and anti-government protesters.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, also criticised what he called a "violation of all European norms of behaviour" by pro-European protesters as they continued their stand-off with police in the capital, Kiev.
Since Sunday, crowds have used petrol bombs, laser pens and a giant catapult against the police, who have responded with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets.
The latest stand-off is in response to moves by President Viktor Yanukovych to snuff out months of street protests by introducing tough laws that threaten five years in jail for anyone who blockades a public building.
But the Kremlin's call for order also underlined how divided the country has become along pro-Russian and pro-European lines. In his remarks, Mr Lavrov criticised the European Union for offering "indecent" support to the protesters, painting them as the sponsors of anti-Russian thuggery.
In an effort to defuse the tensions, a senior aide to Mr Yanukovych said last night that there would be no emergency law to end the unrest. "There will be no declaration of a state of emergency," said Andriy Klyuev, secretary of the National Council of Security and Defence.
The Ukrainian government was reported to have pinpointed the cellphone locations of people involved in the protests.
They were then sent a text message shortly after midnight saying: "Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance."
Overnight yesterday, the two sides fought each other to an effective standstill, with riot squads moving to dismantle barricades, a protesters' camp and the giant catapult used to hurl missiles.
They were then pushed back to their original positions by the crowds, who appear to be better organised and more confrontational than in the past.
Some anti-government figures have claimed that the demonstrators are agents provocateurs sent in by the government to discredit the protest movement. Others say it is the work of a right-wing youth group called "Right Sector", which opposes closer links with either Russia or Europe.
The protests began in late November, after Mr Yanukovych abruptly backtracked on signing a trade deal that would have forged closer links with the European Union.
Critics say he did so under pressure from the Kremlin, which wants Ukraine to remain within Russia's sphere of influence. (© Daily Telegraph, London)