KIEV, March 24 (RIA Novosti, Olga Bernatskaya) - Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said Friday that Moscow's calls to recognize the special status of the Russian language in some regions of the country were illegal and provocative.
"Ukraine condemns attempts to engage in opportunism to stress the issue of 'Ukraine's Russian-speaking citizens'," said Vasiliy Filipchuk, the head of the ministry's press service.
Ukraine will elect a new parliament Sunday and the status of the Russian language has become a hotly debated issue in some areas.
On March 21, the Russian Foreign Ministry welcomed a controversial move made by the authorities of Ukraine's second largest city, Kharkov, to make Russian a regional language. The municipal authorities of the city, which is in the largely Russian-speaking east of the country, made the initiative referring to the European Charter of Regional Languages, which has been ratified by Ukraine's parliament.
Filipchuk said the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry took the view that its Russian counterpart's position on the matter amounted to "undisguised interference with the Ukrainian state's internal affairs."
Many Ukrainians speak and understand Russian, which was the dominant language in the times of the Soviet Union, but Ukrainian became the country's sole official language after it declared independence in 1991.
President Viktor Yushchenko condemned the Kharkov decision last week, saying it failed to comply with the country's interests.
"I do not welcome such steps," he said speaking at Kharkov National University. "A court should provide legal appraisal of this [move]."
Another Russian official, Alexander Chepurin, the head of the Foreign Ministry's department for dealing with compatriots overseas, said the country's strategic aim was to make Russians abroad full-fledged citizens in the country of their residence.
Chepurin said 22% of the Ukrainian population were ethnic Russians.
However, officials in Ukraine have staunchly resisted calls to promote the status of Russian. On Wednesday, parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, who is considered to be pro-Russian by some, also spoke against Russian becoming an official language as it would replace Ukrainian. "This is impossible in a country called Ukraine," he said.
With the parliamentary polls approaching, the status of Russian has become something of a battleground, but Lytvyn, who heads his own eponymous bloc, said people who could speak no language perfectly were raising the issue of two languages.