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Russia says West still pressing Ukraine to choose Europe

Source: Reuters - Wed, 18 Dec 2013 08:32 AM
Author: Reuters
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* Lavrov criticises West over Ukraine

* Ukraine has accepted financial assistance from Moscow (Adds quotes, details, context)

MOSCOW, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Russia accused the West on Wednesday of putting pressure on Ukraine to choose closer ties with the European Union even though Kiev has accepted a Russian bailout after spurning a trade deal with the EU.

Russia is "surprised by attempts to put overt pressure on the Ukrainian government, which continue despite the decisions made in Moscow yesterday," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in remarks to the upper house of parliament.

Without naming any countries, he accused the West of making "demands that Kiev make a 'free choice' in favour of Europe."

"This very phrase, this very call ... denies a sovereign state the right to deal with the situation independently and act in accordance with its rightful national interests," Lavrov said in a foreign policy address to Russia's Federation Council.

At a meeting in the Kremlin with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich on Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin said Russia would buy $15 billion worth of Ukrainian debt and sharply lower gas prices for Kiev, offering the nation finiancial relief but adding to the anger of protesters in Ukraine.

Russia has criticised U.S. and EU officials for visiting Ukrainian demonstrators who have been protesting since the government aborted plans to sign an agreement that would have brought it closer to the EU last month, saying it is interference.

Western officials say Russia has pressured Kiev but Lavrov denied that, saying: "We are not forcing anything on anyone".

He said trade alliances among ex-Soviet states that Putin has made a priority were not meant to oppose the EU, which he called a "strategic partner" of Russia, and repeated Moscow's calls for the eventual creation of a "single economic space" from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

"We are against forcing a false choice of 'with us or against us' upon European peoples," Lavrov said. (Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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