Ukrainian neutrality "a basic issue" for Russia: Lavrov

Ukraine`s non-aligned status is "a basic issue" for Moscow and efforts in Kiev to scrap it are an American-inspired bid to drive a wedge between Russia and Europe, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday.

Moscow: Ukraine`s non-aligned status is "a basic issue" for Moscow and efforts in Kiev to scrap it are an American-inspired bid to drive a wedge between Russia and Europe, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday.

Lavrov, commenting on a draft law to change Kiev`s military status, said neutrality "answers the interests of the Ukrainian people, the legitimate interests of all neighbours and partners of Ukraine, and also the interests of European security."

The draft law, submitted to parliament last month by the government of Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, was also "a direct affront to the president of the country," he said, implying President Petro Poroshenko did not support it.

Yatseniuk said at the time the bill aimed to "scrap the non-aligned status of the Ukrainian state and establish a course towards membership of NATO."

"For us this is a basic issue," Lavrov said in an interview with the Russian television channel TV Centre.

Yatseniuk "is undertaking efforts not in the interests of his own country," Lavrov said, "but of those who want to sow discord between the Ukrainian and Russian peoples and drive a deep and wide wedge between Russia and Europe.

"That is firstly Washington - the U.S. doesn`t hide the level of its engagement," he said in the interview, as quoted by the news agency Itar-Tass.

Analysts say Russia`s policy towards Ukraine has been motivated largely by its hostility to possible future Ukrainian membership of NATO. Western governments have accused Russia of destabilising its neighbour by annexing Crimea and sending Russian troops to back separatist rebels in two eastern regions.

Moscow denies its troops are helping the separatists.

Lavrov also rejected claims that Moscow wanted to create a pro-Russian statelet in eastern Ukraine as a buffer zone.

"I have heard... that we are somehow interested in the creation of a "Second Transdniestria", some sort of buffer zone," he said, referring to a breakaway province in Moldova that has been autonomous since a 1992 war.

"This is stupid," he said. "To think we broke up Transdniestria`s political settlement and therefore we now want to do the same in Ukraine can only be the product of a febrile brain counting on fooling the public."

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