|Follow us on:|
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov issued a sharp rebuke of his American counterpart John Kerry after the Secretary of State called the RT news network (previously known as Russia Today) a propaganda machine employed by Moscow.
“In fact, the propaganda bullhorn that is the state-sponsored RT program has been deployed to promote – actually, RT network – has been deployed to promote President [Vladimir] Putin’s fantasy about what is playing out on the ground,” Kerry told US media at the State Department.
Addressing a forum of youth diplomats in Moscow on Friday, Lavrov said Kerry’s comments were “not very cultured”.
“I could understand John Kerry as Russia Today has today become a serious rival for CNN and other Western media,” Lavrov added. He went further to say the Western media’s hold on global news reporting had been broken because RT has “earned a huge audience in the US, West Europe, without speaking about Latin America and the Arab world”.
“We will be actively supporting this independent alternative viewpoint on what the Western propaganda tells us,” Lavrov added.
But the war of words over the role of the media comes amid heightened exchanges between Russia and the US over recent developments in the Ukraine.
On Thursday, Moscow began military drills along the Ukraine border as authorities in the capital Kiev reported killing at least five pro-Russian “militants” in the eastern predominantly Russian-speaking city of Slovyansk.
Earlier in the week, Ukrainian forces had started to move into the city, setting up roadblocks and checkpoints.
Putin warned last week that Moscow’s military forces would only be used in the Ukraine if ethnic Russians living there were threatened or attacked.
On Friday, the Western-backed Kiev government said one of its helicopters had been downed by sniper and rocket fire in Eastern Ukraine.
An agreement brokered by the EU, Russia, Ukraine and the US – collectively known as the Ukraine Contact Group – in Geneva was last week meant to defuse tensions as it called for pro-Moscow protesters to vacate official buildings seized in recent weeks.
However, the protesters have refused to leave the buildings, and in Slovyansk, pro-Russian militia have vowed to make a Stalingrad-like last stand.
Kerry blamed Moscow for the recent escalations.
“For seven days, Russia has refused to take a single concrete step in the right direction,” Kerry said. “Not a single Russian official, not one, has publicly gone on television in Ukraine and called on the separatists to support the Geneva agreement, to support the stand-down, to give up their weapons and get out of the Ukrainian buildings.”
But Lavrov fired back saying the West had territorial designs in Ukraine.
“The West wants – and this is how it all began – to seize control of Ukraine because of their own political ambitions, not in the interests of the Ukrainian people,” he said.
He said that Kiev authorities had failed to move on the Geneva agreement.
A joint statement issued after the agreement last week focused on an “inclusive” constitution, which US President Barack Obama said would guarantee the rights of Russian-speaking Ukrainians.
“The announced constitutional process will be inclusive, transparent and accountable,” the joint statement said. Further, “It will include the immediate establishment of a broad national dialogue, with outreach to all of Ukraine’s regions and national constituencies, and allow for the consideration of public comments and proposed amendments”.
The statement also demanded that all sides halt violence and provocation, and for all pro-Russian militia to lay down their arms and leave official buildings seized over the course of the past month.