Russia says yes to talks on Ukraine crisis but wants eastern region on board

Russia says yes to talks on Ukraine crisis but wants eastern region on board

MOSCOW - Moscow said on Tuesday it was ready to take part in talks with Brussels and Washington over the future of Ukraine but insisted the ex-Soviet country's Russian-speaking east and south be represented in the negotiations.

"Indeed we are ready to consider a multi-party format in which the Europeans, the United States, Russia and the Ukrainian sides are represented," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters.

"We are in favour of Ukraine's south and east being represented in such talks."

Russia's top diplomat suggested that some of the candidates set to run in May 25 snap presidential elections and representing Ukraine's pro-Moscow east and south could take part in the talks.

On Monday, Washington said it wants within the next 10 days to see four-way talks between Washington, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union to find a way to calm tensions in the east of Ukraine.

Over the past few days, pro-Kremlin activists have seized government buildings in several cities in Ukraine's east, declaring independence and vowing to vote on splitting from Ukraine.

Russia has argued that the only way to calm tensions would be for Kiev authorities to conduct constitutional reforms to give the Russian-speaking regions more independence through federalisation.

Mr Lavrov lamented that the "constitutional reform was being prepared in secret" and said Russia wanted to see a draft of Ukraine's new constitution before the crisis talks.

He dismissed Western accusations of Moscow bankrolling the unrest in Ukraine's east. "I will leave these statements on the conscience of our American partners," Mr Lavrov said.

Russia has accused Washington of fomenting the pro-Western popular uprising that ousted Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovych in February.

Following Yanukovych's ouster, President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine's Russian-speaking peninsula of Crimea and made it part of Russian territory after a referendum last month.

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