Ukraine president spurns 'Moscow scenario' for Crimea

A handout photo released on March 4, 2014 by the Ukraine Parliament Press Service shows Oleksandr Turchynov (L), Parliament Speaker and Ukraine's interim President, greeting US Secretary of State John Kerry before their talks in Kiev.

KIEV - Ukraine refuses to follow "a scenario written by the Kremlin" but will not intervene militarily in Crimea, acting president Oleksandr Turchynov told AFP Tuesday in an exclusive interview as his country sank deeper into crisis.

With the strategic Black Sea peninsula threatening to secede from Ukraine, Turchynov said Kiev would not launch a military operation in the southeastern region, where Russian-backed forces have seized de facto control, because it would risk exposing its eastern border.

The president, who came to power last month after violent protests brought down the previous pro-Moscow government, also condemned an upcoming referendum in Crimea as a "sham", the results of which will be fixed in Moscow.

"We cannot launch a military operation in Crimea, as we would expose the eastern border (close to Russia) and Ukraine would not be protected," Turchynov said as the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War continued to escalate.

"Significant tank units are massed near Ukraine's eastern border," he added, referring to Russian forces.

"They're provoking us to have a pretext to intervene on the Ukrainian mainland... (but) we cannot follow the scenario written by the Kremlin."

The tensions have led to mass protests in parts of southern and eastern Ukraine - mostly Russian-speaking regions - with protesters storming the regional government buildings in the cities of Donetsk and Lugansk.

While he shied away from going on the offensive in Crimea, Turchynov insisted Ukraine would "not be inactive in the face of continued aggression".

"They (Russia) can attack our military units in Crimea, spread their aggression on the continent. The army will react," he vowed.

Made in the Kremlin

Crimea is due to hold a referendum Sunday on joining Russia, and on Tuesday, the pro-Moscow authorities in the autonomous Black Sea peninsula took the additional step of voting for full independence from Ukraine.

Turchynov however dismissed Sunday's secession vote, saying: "It's a sham, most of the people of Crimea will boycott this provocation.

"What they call the referendum will not happen in Crimea but in the offices of the Kremlin," he said.

"The Russian forces don't intend to hold a referendum, they're just going to falsify the results," he added, saying "no civilised country will recognise these results."

The referendum is being organised by Crimea's self-appointed leaders, who are not recognised by the new pro-European government in Kiev, installed following three months of protests that resulted in 100 deaths and the ouster of pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych.

Conversely, Turchynov is not recognised by Moscow, which still sees Yanukovych as Ukraine's legitimate president.

World powers have repeatedly called for Moscow and Kiev to come together to seek a solution to the escalating crisis in Crimea, but Turchynov said Russia's leaders were refusing any dialogue with their Ukrainian counterparts.

"Unfortunately, for now Russia is rejecting a diplomatic solution to the conflict," he told AFP.

"They are refusing all contact at foreign ministry and top government level," he added, as Western powers, led by the US and Germany, continued to push for the creation of a contact group to avert full-fledged war.

With interim prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk due to meet US President Barack Obama in Washington on Wednesday, Turchynov said Kiev was counting on Western help "to stop Russian aggression".

Russia, which guaranteed Ukraine's safety in a 1994 deal along with Britain and the United States in return for Kiev giving up its nuclear weapons, now "is acting like an aggressor instead of fulfilling its duty", Turchynov said.

"The US and the European Union must force Russia to stop this military aggression and these provocations against Ukraine," he added.

He also rubbished claims that Russian-speakers in Ukraine faced discrimination as "madness". Russian President Vladimir Putin had justified Moscow's incursion into Crimea with the need to protect "Russian-speaking populations", who make up the majority there.

Turchynov, who was speaking to AFP after a meeting of the national security and defence council in Kiev, will have a brief mandate, with snap presidential elections scheduled on May 25 in which he does not plan to stand.