Ukraine crisis: Russia accuses West of regime-change plot

Moscow's foreign minister says US and EU are trying to use sanctions to destroy Putin's economy

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday accused the US and the EU of trying to use sanctions imposed over the Ukraine crisis to seek "regime change".

He told a meeting of government advisers in Moscow that "the West is making clear it does not want to force Russia to change policy but wants to secure regime change", according to the Tass news agency.

Mr Lavrov said that when international sanctions had been used against countries such as Iran and North Korea, they had been designed not to harm the national economy. "Now public figures in Western countries say there is a need to impose sanctions that will destroy [Russia's] economy and cause public protests," he added.

His comments followed remarks on Thursday in which President Vladimir Putin said Moscow must guard against a "colour revolution" in Russia, referring to protests that toppled leaders in former Soviet republics.

Western sanctions have limited access to foreign capital for some of Russia's largest companies and banks, hit the defence and energy industries, and imposed asset freezes and travel bans on some of Mr Putin's allies. The measures have aggravated an economic downturn, and have helped cause a nearly 30 per cent slide in the rouble against the dollar since the start of the year.

Joe Biden

But Mr Putin's popularity has soared in Russia since its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March.

On Friday, US Vice-President Joe Biden said Russia's behaviour in Ukraine was "unacceptable" and that Moscow must abide by September's ceasefire. He urged Russia to pull soldiers out of east Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists are fighting government forces, although Moscow denies supporting the rebels with troops and weapons. The conflict has led to the deaths of more than 4,300 people since mid-April.

Speaking at an Atlantic Council summit in Istanbul yesterday, Mr Biden warned that Moscow should not use its energy resources as a political weapon. "I have no doubt Russia will and should remain a major source of energy supply for Europe and the world. This is about energy security. To achieve it, Europe needs to make sure it diversifies its resources, its routes and its suppliers."

Russia and Ukraine reached a temporary pricing deal last month after Moscow switched off the gas supply to its former Soviet neighbour, amid worsening relations over Russian support for the rebels.