Russia reveals West wanting to “seize” all Ukraine

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused the West of wanting to “seize” Ukraine, amid escalating rhetoric between Russia and the US.

American officials say Russia is behind unrest in eastern Ukrainian cities.

Ukraine has warned it will consider any crossing into its territory by Russian troops stationed on the border as a “military invasion”.

“We do not accept false declarations about humanitarian action,” the chief of staff of acting President Olexander Turchynov told the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.

“We will destroy the attackers.”

In a separate development, Russia’s foreign currency ratings have been cut by the credit ratings agency Standard & Poor to one notch above “junk” status.

The agency warned that further downgrades were possible if the West imposed tighter sanctions against Moscow.

Pro-Russian separatists have been occupying key buildings in a dozen eastern Ukrainian towns, defying the central government.

Ukraine has launched military raids to regain the buildings, which Mr Lavrov described as a “bloody crime”.

“The West… wants to seize Ukraine so to speak, being solely motivated by its own geopolitical ambitions and not the interests of the Ukrainian people,” Mr Lavrov said, according to AFP.

“The might of US propaganda” was aimed “at smearing Russia, smearing those who protest against the illegal actions of the [Kiev] authorities,” he went on.

In response to Mr Lavrov’s comments, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Russia wanted to “start World War Three” by occupying Ukraine “militarily and politically” and by creating a conflict that would spread to the rest of Europe.

Russia has ordered new military exercises on its border following the Ukrainian military raids, drawing condemnation from Kiev.

Moscow has tens of thousands of troops along its side of the border and on Friday acting Ukrainian Defence Minister Mikhail Koval said they had come within a kilometre of the border.

On Thursday morning raids by Ukrainian commandos on pro-Russian checkpoints around the town of Sloviansk left at least two separatists dead.

There have also been reports from the port city of Odessa indicating that an explosion at a checkpoint injured at least seven people.

US President Barack Obama said he would talk to some key European leaders on Friday evening to make sure they shared his “assessment in terms of what has happened since the Geneva talks” held on 17 April.

Mr Kerry said US intelligence was confident that Russia was “playing an active role in destabilising eastern Ukraine” with personnel, weapons, money and operational planning”.

Unrest began in Ukraine last November over whether the country should look towards Moscow or the West.

Last month, Russia annexed Ukraine’s mainly ethnic-Russian Crimea. This followed a referendum in the region that backed joining the Russian Federation which the West and Kiev deemed illegal.

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