MOSCOW - Russia has absolutely no intention of ordering its armed forces to cross over the Ukrainian border and the divisions between Moscow and the West on the crisis are narrowing, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Saturday.
"We have absolutely no intention and no interests in crossing the Ukrainian border," Lavrov told Russian state television in an interview, appearing to firmly rule out an invasion of mainland Ukraine after Moscow's seizure of Crimea.
"We (Russia and the West) are getting closer in our positions," he added, saying recent contacts had shown the outlines of a "possible joint initiative which could be presented to our Ukrainian colleagues," he added.
Lavrov said Moscow's priority was to see Ukraine implement reform that would create a federalised structure for the country with every region having a degree of autonomy.
"To be honest, we do not see any other path forwards for the Ukrainian state other than federalisation," he said. "Maybe someone knows better and can find a magical solution within a unitary state," he added with characteristic sarcasm.
He said that the West was showing openness to the idea of a federalised Ukraine.
"They are listening. I can say that a federation (for Ukraine) is far from being a forbidden word in our talks," Lavrov said.
He said he expected the West to make this point clear to the strongly pro-EU new Ukrainian government. "It is hard to suspect the current Ukrainian government of independence," he sniped.
Lavrov said that the new Ukrainian constitution should also explicitly make clear that the country is a neutral state - ruling out any future membership of NATO.
"There should be no ambiguity here. There is too much 'not for the time being' and 'we don't intend' (to join NATO). Intentions change, but facts on the ground remain," he said.
He added it was high time that protesters left occupied Ukrainian streets, squares and buildings including the Maidan Independence Square which has been the focus of the protest movement since November.
"It is just shameful for a European country, for one of the most beautiful cities in Europe that this Maidan has been preserved for haf a year.
"It is shameful for all those who tolerate it," he added.
But Lavrov applauded the Ukrainian government and the West for starting to put pressure on the right wing group Right Sector who is still a visible presence on Kiev's streets.
"Better late than never," he said.