Russia on Tuesday condemned plans by Ukraine to give up its non-aligned status, and seek NATO membership.
“This idea by the government in Kiev is an attempt by the party of war to disrupt the attempts to find a political solution,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow, the Interfax news agency reported.
Lavrov added that “it is a pity that the US, some EU member states and NATO officials are playing up the idea.”
The Ukrainian parliament is discussing a bill that would lift a 2010 law that stipulates the country’s non-aligned status. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who submitted the bill, has said that it would open the path to Ukraine’s NATO membership.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is expected to attend the NATO summit in Britain later this week.
Russia has vehemently opposed the idea of Ukraine joining NATO and President Vladimir Putin has justified the annexation of Crimea by pointing to the possibility of Ukraine’s NATO membership.
Representatives of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine held talks government officials, Russia, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Minsk on Monday. The talks are supposed to continue in the Belarusian capital this Friday.
OSCE officials warned Tuesday that the security situation in eastern Ukraine was deteriorating.
The average number of casualties per day now stands at 36, as opposed to 10-11 in the early months of the conflict, Ertugrul Apakan, the head of the organization’s monitoring mission in Ukraine told a European Parliament hearing.
Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council said Tuesday that 15 soldiers were killed and 49 injured in fighting during the past 24 hours, the Interfax Ukraine news agency reported.
Lavrov also ridiculed an initiative by Australia to have Russia excluded from the G20 summit, which will be held in November in Brisbane.
“Maybe (the Australians) concluded that they cannot guarantee a productive summit and decided to divert attention from the economic agenda to political scandals,” Lavrov was quoted as saying by Interfax.
Australia’s Trade Minister Andrew Robb said earlier that Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Defence Minister David Johnston will try to persuade G20 leaders to exclude Russia during this week’s NATO summit.
In Brussels, Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini said the European Union will take a decision by Friday on tougher sanctions against Russia.
European Commission experts will finalize them by Wednesday, Mogherini told EU lawmakers, adding that the sanctions would target areas including financial services, defence and energy sectors.
EU leaders asked the commission to prepare the measures at a summit last Saturday. They also appointed Mogherini as the EU’s next foreign policy chief.
The Italian minister rejected criticism that she was being soft on Russia over Ukraine.
She said that Russia is no longer a “strategic partner” to the EU, but just a strategic player. “I wish Russia would choose to go back to be a strategic partner in the future, but it’s not what is happening now,” she said.
Yatsenyuk travelled to Slovakia on Tuesday to attend the opening of a gas pipeline that would send Russian gas back to Ukraine.
The so-called reverse flow has been criticized by Russian energy giant Gazprom as a breach of existing contracts.
EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said in Brussels that three-way talks with Moscow and Kiev to settle the gas dispute with Ukraine could be held in mid-September.
An exact date will be set after a meeting with Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuriy Prodan in Baku on Monday, Oettinger said.