Deutsche Welle, 8 March 2014
Russian and Ukrainian representatives have met for the first face-to-face talks since the onset of the Crimean crisis. Meanwhile, pro-Russian militia have fired warning shots to block observers from entering the region.
Russia's deputy foreign minister and Ukrainian ambassador to Moscow held a "cordial" meeting in Russian capital on Saturday amid rising tensions in Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.
"On the 8th of March, a meeting took place between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin and Ukraine's Ambassador to Russia Volodymyr Yelchenko during which, in an open atmosphere, questions of Russia-Ukrainian relations were discussed," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement.
No further information was given on the extent to which the Crimea crisis was discussed.
The talks came hours after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov advocated objective talks with foreign powers and the new interim government in Ukraine.
"We are open to an honest, equal and objective dialogue with our foreign partners to find a way to help all of Ukraine come out of the crisis," Russia's top diplomat said at a televised news conference in Moscow.
Lavrov warned, however, that dialogue would only go ahead if there were no attempt to "display Russia as a party to the conflict."
"This crisis was not created by us. All the more, it was created in defiance of our repeated and longstanding warnings," Lavrov said.
"The crisis has been created artificially, out of geo-political motives," he added, challenging Western accusations that Russia was responsible for the onset of the crisis.
According to the Ukrainian interim Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, the new government is also ready for official talks on the issue, provided Moscow withdraw all its troops from Crimea and halt its support for "separatists and terrorists."
Crimean referendum 'unlawful'
Tensions between the Ukraine and Moscow have surged since thousands of pro-Russian soldiers took control of the Crimean peninsula last week.
Moscow has repeatedly stated it does not recognize the pro-European interim government in Kyiv, which ousted Kremlin ally President Viktor Yanukovych last month following mass protests.
The parliament in Crimea, which has a Russian speaking majority, has since announced plans to hold a referendum on March 16 on joining the Russian Federation.
The move was welcomed by both houses of Russia's parliament, but rejected outright by Ukrainian authorities.
"[The referendum] is unlawful and it will have no legal consequences for either Crimea, Ukraine [or], I hope, the international community," Ukraine's acting foreign minister, Andrii Deshchytsia, told reporters on Saturday.
Deshchytsia also called on Russia to allow international observers into Crimea, after international military observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) were stopped from entering the peninsula for a third day running.
Warning shots fired
Pro-Kremlin gunmen fired warning shots on Saturday, forcing the unarmed observer mission to turn back.
A spokeswoman for the OSCE said no one was hurt.
Although it was the third time observers had been prevented from entering the region, it was the first time shots had been fired.
Despite being there under the request of the Ukrainian interim government, Russia said the OSCE observers had failed to obtain an official invitation from Crimean authorities.
ccp/se (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)