MOSCOW, February 26 (RIA Novosti) – Russia demanded Wednesday that an intergovernmental security and rights group condemn what it described as the rise in nationalist and neo-Fascist sentiments in western Ukraine, as well as moves to curb the use of the Russian language in the former Soviet nation.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a statement after meeting with Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Secretary General Lamberto Zannier that attempts to turn Ukraine’s Russian-speaking population into “non-citizens” should be rejected.
Ukrainian media reported Sunday that a draft law enshrining Ukrainian as the only official state language was being considered by parliament.
OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Astrid Thors said Monday that the new legislative proposal could lead to increased tensions in Ukraine.
The authorities have to consult widely to ensure that future language legislation accommodates the needs and positions of everyone in Ukrainian society, whether they are speakers of Ukrainian, Russian or other languages,” Thors said adding that any new language legislation meets European standards.
Russian is currently recognized as an official language in regions where at least 10 percent of the population is Russian-speaking. Just under half of Ukrainian regions meet that standard.
The country is split between the Ukrainian-speaking West and the Russian-speaking East, although many speak both or a mixture of the two known as “surzhyk.”
Lavrov said the proposal on limiting the use of Russian constituted a constraint on free expression of views and could be used to forcibly shut down undesired political parties.
The legislative proposal follows the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych over the weekend and has already aroused concerns that a surge of nationalism could unfairly marginalize the substantial ethnic Russian community.
Yanukovych had his base of support in the east, while the protest movement, which also includes a notably rabid nationalist element, has drawn most of its impetus from western regions.
Yanukovych, who was voted into power with 48.9 percent of the vote in 2010, was often ridiculed during his time in office for his poor command of Ukrainian.