Russia condemns 'lawlessness' in Crimea11 March 2014 BBC Online
Russia has condemned "lawlessness" in eastern Ukraine, blaming far-right militants for "conniving" with the new authorities in Kiev.In a statement, the Russian foreign ministry said masked men fired on and injured peaceful protesters last week.It also accused Ukraine of not being committed to media freedoms after seven Russian journalists were detained.Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of using blatant propaganda to justify troop deployments in Ukraine's Crimea.They have also accused Moscow of stoking unrest in south-eastern Ukraine - a claim denied by the Kremlin.On Sunday, tens of thousands of people across Ukraine held rival pro-unity and pro-Russian rallies.In Sevastopol, Crimea, pro-Moscow groups beat up pro-Ukrainian activists, a BBC correspondent at the scene reported. They came as Moscow is continuing to strengthen its grip on Crimea before a secession referendum in Ukraine's southern region on 16 March.The city has recently witnessed mass rival rallies, some of which were violent. However, local Kharkiv police say they are treating the alleged shooting as a minor incident, according to Reuters.The Russian statement also said the seven Russian journalists had been detained by police in Dnipropetrovsk, also in the east, who accused them of being interested only in "separate provocative stories". "The Ukrainian authorities, in violation of all existing bilateral treaties, are not letting Russian citizens into the territory of Ukraine," the statement added.And it also voiced Moscow's surprise over "the shameful silence of our Western partners, human rights groups and foreign media". Ukraine has in the past firmly denied similar Russian allegations, instead accusing Moscow of distorting facts to justify its continuing military presence in Crimea.Kiev points out that monitors of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe have recently been prevented by pro-Russian militia groups from entering Crimea and a number of journalists have been beaten up by militias in the autonomous region.Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted he has the right to protect Russian interests and the rights of ethnic Russians there. On Sunday, he also defended the moves by Crimea's authorities to stage the referendum on 16 March. Putin said "the steps taken by Crimea's legitimate authorities are based on international law".However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told him in a phone call that she considered the vote illegal.Both EU leaders and the US have warned Moscow they would slap even tougher sanctions if Russian troops remained in Crimea. Unrest in Ukraine erupted in November after former President Viktor Yanukovych's last-minute rejection of a landmark EU deal in favour of a bailout from Russia.Yanukovych was ousted last month, and a new government has been voted in by the Ukrainian parliament.