MOSCOW – Russian officials and Kremlin-influenced media stepped up their accusations Thursday that Western countries were fomenting the violence in Ukraine and warned that sanctions imposed by the United States and under consideration by the European Union were tantamount to “blackmail.”
“We are deeply concerned with what is happening and how the Western states are commenting on it and are trying to affect it,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russia Today television, calling Western media accounts of the Ukrainian unrest “extremely perverted.”
Lavrov took up the line set down by the Kremlin earlier this week that the protesters who have occupied central Kiev for three months, demanding President Viktor Yanukovych’s resignation, have been co-opted by extremists driving the country toward civil war.
“The opposition cannot or does not want to dissociate itself from extremists,” Lavrov said from Baghdad, where he was on an official visit. “The U.S. lays all the blame on the Ukrainian government — this is a double standard.”
Lavrov said the European Union’s threat to impose targeted sanctions on Ukrainian officials blamed for excessive use of force against the demonstrators “resembles blackmail.”
In a separate statement from Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry deemed the individual sanctions imposed Wednesday by the United States barring some Ukrainian officials from obtaining U.S. visas as “absolutely illegitimate” under international law and likely to aggravate the volatile situation in Ukraine.
Later Thursday, the E.U. said it will impose sanctions on Ukrainian officials found to have authorized the bloody crackdown. No immediate list of those targeted was released.