Russia will respond if its interests are attacked in Ukraine, as they were in South Ossetia in 2008 which led to war with Georgia, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says.
“If we are attacked, we would certainly respond,” he told state-controlled RT television in an interview on Wednesday.
“If our interests, our legitimate interests, the interests of Russians have been attacked directly, like they were in South Ossetia for example, I do not see any other way but to respond in accordance with international law.”
Lavrov did not elaborate further on what the response would entail but the reference to Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia strongly hints at the possibility of military action.
In August 2008 Russia sent troops into South Ossetia and then into Tbilisi-controlled Georgian territory after then president Mikheil Saakashvili tried to reestablish control over the breakaway region.
Russia then recognised South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian region, Abkhazia, as independent in defiance of the West.
“Russian citizens being attacked is an attack against the Russian Federation,” Lavrov told RT, which published excerpts of the interview to be broadcast later Wednesday.
The West has strongly warned Russia against sending troops into eastern Ukraine to aid pro-Moscow separatists. President Vladimir Putin has said he hopes there will be no military action but has not ruled out such a move.
Lavrov also accused the United States of controlling the actions of the pro-West Ukrainian government, saying that Washington was now “running the show” in Kiev.
Lavrov noted that Ukraine had chosen to relaunch military operations against separatists in the east during a visit to Kiev by US Vice President Joe Biden.
“This means we have no reason not to believe that the Americans are running the show in the most direct way,” Russia’s top diplomat said.
He reaffirmed Moscow’s belief that the Ukrainian government had failed to carry out any of its obligations under the agreement reached in Geneva last week aimed at de-escalating the crisis.
“Nothing that was agreed in Geneva that the Kiev authorities had to carry out has been implemented by them,” he said.
Relations between Russia and the West have dived to a post-Cold War low after the February ousting of president Viktor Yanukovych which Moscow denounced as an illegal takeover of power.