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Russia downplays troops in Ukraine

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday justified the use of Russian troops streaming into neighbouring Ukraine's Crimea region as a necessary protection for his country's citizens living there.

The use of Russian troops is necessary "until the normalization of the political situation" in Ukraine, Lavrov said at an opening of a month-long session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

"We are talking here about protection of our citizens and compatriots, about protection of the most fundamental of the human rights - the right to live, and nothing more," Lavrov said.

Ukraine has accused Russia of a military invasion and has called on the Kremlin to withdraw its troops. Lavrov dismissed the criticism, and said that "information is coming in about preparations for new provocations that are being committed, including against the Russian Black Sea fleet," which is based in Crimea, a strategic peninsula now effectively under Russian control.

"Those who are trying to interpret the situation as a sort of aggression and threatening us with sanctions and boycotts, these are the same partners who have been consistently and vigorously encouraging the political powers close to them to declare ultimatums and renounce dialogue," Lavrov said. "We call upon them to show a responsibility and to set aside geopolitical calculations and put the interests of the Ukrainian people above all."

Lavrov will meet later Monday with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to discuss the situation.

Lavrov called on Ukraine to return to the Feb. 21 agreement signed by pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych aimed at ending his country's three-month political crisis. He fled after signing an agreement with the opposition and foreign ministers of France, German and Poland to hold early elections this fall and surrender much of his powers. But opposition supporters kept pushing for his immediate dismissal.

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