Sunday 15 December 2019

Putin's comments about 'taking over Kiev' were 'taken out of context' - official

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets spectators at the 2014 World Judo Championships in Chelyabinsk
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets spectators at the 2014 World Judo Championships in Chelyabinsk

A Kremlin aide has sharply criticised EU Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso for breaching confidentiality when he quoted Russian president Vladimir Putin as saying Moscow could take over Kiev in two weeks, if it wished.

Yuri Ushakov, the Russian leader's foreign policy adviser, told reporters that Mr Putin's statement was "taken out of context and carried a completely different meaning".

Mr Ushakov lashed out at Mr Barroso, saying it was a breach of diplomatic practices and "unworthy of a serious politician" to speak publicly about a private conversation.

Several European publications earlier this week cited diplomats quoting Mr Barroso as saying that Mr Putin had said in a private conversation that Russian forces could take over Ukraine's capital in two weeks' time, if they wished.

Mr Putin's comment reportedly came in response to Mr Barroso pointing out Ukrainian and Western claims that Russia had sharply escalated the conflict in eastern Ukraine by sending regular army units into Ukraine.

Nato has estimated that at least 1,000 Russian soldiers have entered Ukraine, helping turn the tide in favour of pro-Russian insurgents.

Mr Ushakov reaffirmed Moscow's denial that it has sent any soldiers in, even though a rebel leader said last week that Russian servicemen on official leave were among some 4,000 Russians fighting in Ukraine.

Ukrainian defence minister Valeriy Heletey said on his Facebook page yesterday that the counter-insurgency operation is over and the nation's military is now facing the Russian army in a war that could cost "tens of thousands" of lives.

Russia's foreign ministry dismissed Mr Heletey's remarks as "shocking" and accused him of making the statement in a bid to shift blame and keep his seat amid a series of defeats suffered by the Ukrainian military.

Pro-Russian rebels have been fighting Ukrainian government troops since mid-April in a conflict that has left more than 2,500 people dead. In recent weeks, the rebels have scored significant gains on the ground, launching an offensive along the coast of the Sea of Azov.

Efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the hostilities, which followed the ouster of Ukraine's pro-Russian president and Russia's annexation of Crimea, have failed.

Representatives of Ukraine, Russia, pro-Russian rebels and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) made another attempt to reach an accord yesterday in Minsk, the Belarusian capital.

Rebels presented a negotiating platform that dropped their previous demand for full independence and expressed readiness to negotiate a settlement that would respect Ukraine's territorial integrity in exchange for a broad autonomy for eastern provinces.

The talks lasted several hours and were adjourned until Friday, when the parties are expected to discuss specifics of a possible cease-fire and a prisoners' exchange.

Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has urged the United States to use its influence in Ukraine to encourage efforts to reach a political settlement. "It's necessary to restrain the party of war in Kiev, and only the United States can do it," he said at a briefing.

PA Media

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News