MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman castigated the West on Friday for its stance on Ukraine, but said he hoped a new Cold War could be avoided despite the disagreements.
In an interview on Russian state television, Dmitry Peskov said calls for Russia and the new authorities in Kiev to begin talks using Western countries as mediators were laughable.
“One can only smile at that,” he said.
Peskov said the West had lost its credibility after failing to stand behind the Feb. 21 Kiev peace deal brokered by France, Germany and Poland between Viktor Yanukovych, the now-ousted Ukraine president, and the opposition.
After the agreement was signed, the Western mediators “withdrew into the shadows,” Peskov said, and the deal fell apart.
“Everything that the opposition should have fulfilled remained on paper, even though it should have been guaranteed by the ministers of three known countries,” Peskov said.
Western governments should look “soberly” at what was going on in Ukraine and “ask themselves whom it was that they had hurried to recognize as the legitimate authorities in Ukraine.”
There are profound disagreements between the United States and the European Union on one side and Russia on the other, Peskov said. But there remained hope “that some points of agreement can be found as a result of dialogue — which our partners , thank God, have not rejected.”
Peskov’s remarks followed Russian condemnation of the E.U. earlier in the day for taking an “extremely un-constructive approach” to the Ukraine crisis and its pledge to retaliate if the E.U. imposed sanctions.
“Russia does not accept the language of sanctions and threats, but if they are imposed they will not remain unanswered,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
The E.U. agreed Thursday to a three-phase package of sanctions to punish Russia for its military intervention in Crimea, including an immediate halt to talks on a new political and economic pact with Moscow.
“If officials in Brussels believe that Russia needs the successful conclusion of this work more than the E.U., they are wrong,” the Russian foreign ministry said.
Also on Friday, Russian state gas monopoly Gazprom stepped up pressure on Ukraine, warning that Russian gas supplies might dry up unless Kiev settled its gas debts.
Alexei Miller, head of Gazprom, said Ukraine’s debt had jumped to $1.89 billion after Kiev missed a March 7 deadline to settle the bill for last month’s deliveries. “We can’t supply gas for free,” he said.
Gazprom transports most of its gas exports to Europe through pipelines crossing Ukrainian territory. Gas transit to Europe has not been interrupted during the Ukrainian crisis.
Earlier this week, Gazprom said Ukraine would lose the discount it receives on Russian gas next month unless Kiev paid the gas debts.
In Moscow’s Red Square, tens of thousands of people joined a rally and concert to support the Kremlin and Crimea’s aspirations to secede and join Russia.
Participants carrying banners saying “We Believe in Putin,” “Save Crimea from Fascists” and “Crimea is Russian Land” flocked into Red Square at the end of the working day and gathered round a stage installed on the east side of the Kremlin to listen to patriotic speeches and songs.
The event was somewhat reminiscent of Soviet-era demonstrations, with many people flagging their professional affiliations, from the Russian Union of Machine Builders to the Officers of Russia and the Council of Youth Agricultural Workers.
Organizers distributed orange and black ribbons — the colors of Saint George that commemorate the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.
For a full hour, Red Square was thick with waving Russian flags and the banners of the pro-Kremlin United Russia political party. But as the Kremlin clock struck six o’clock, most demonstrators hurried away, many leaving their banners behind.
One man, who would not give his name, saying he feared reprisals, claimed that his employers had ordered him to attend the rally. “I love my motherland and I am for Crimea so it’s all right to be here,” he said, adding that he would have been fired if he’d refused to attend.
“You should understand that not much has changed since the Soviet Union,” he said. “We don’t have gulags any more, of course, but punishments are still very tough.”