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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lavrov Offers to Mediate in Ukraine

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov offered to help mediate in Ukraine's intensifying political crisis Tuesday, while politicians accused Viktor Yushchenko of making an illegal last-ditch bid to hang on to his pro-Western presidency.

Russia, however, has limited resources to tip the balance in its favor in the power struggle, analysts said. It also appears wary about getting involved after facing harsh criticism for its heavy-handed attempts to secure victory for Yushchenko's rival, pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, in Ukraine's fraud-tainted presidential election in 2004.

Lavrov said Moscow was willing to act as a mediator to diffuse the crisis, which sharply escalated with Yushchenko's decision late Monday to dissolve the parliament and hold new elections on May 27.

"If Ukraine asks for this kind of cooperation, believe me, Russia will not wait to step in," Lavrov told reporters in Yerevan, Armenia, Interfax reported.

The foreign minister also called on the Ukrainian rivals to stick to the law and resolve their differences through dialogue.

State Duma deputies did not mince words Tuesday, accusing Yushchenko of giving in to pressure from former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, his more radical ally in the 2004 Orange Revolution protests that helped secure him the presidency.

They also pointed out that the trouble erupted shortly after Tymoshenko returned from a trip to the United States where, they said, she won assurances of support in an anti-Yanukovych campaign.

Noting that thousands of Yushchenko and Yanukovych supporters have taken to Kiev's streets, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov declared the crisis "a second wave of orange leprosy."

Andrei Kokoshin, head of the Duma's committee on CIS affairs, blamed the crisis on the 2004 protests, "when the Orange forces trampled on the country's constitution and when the foundation of political instability was laid," Interfax reported.

He linked the confrontation to "certain strategists" who want Ukraine to join NATO.

Yushchenko has made NATO membership a foreign policy priority, leaving Moscow dismayed at the prospect of losing its most important post-Soviet ally to a Cold War foe.

Yanukovych has said Ukraine is not ready to join NATO and that the decision on membership should be made through a national referendum.

NATO's representative to Ukraine, James Apparturay, said Tuesday that the alliance was closely monitoring the situation and appealed for calm.

The European Union called for a peaceful resolution and said the crisis had no immediate impact on its negotiations with Ukraine for closer political and economic ties.

Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov and several other deputies warned both sides against bringing their struggle onto the streets, where Orange leaders have shown themselves to be better organizers.

"If the struggle moves onto the streets, the chances that Yushchenko and Tymoshenko would win are high, meaning that Ukraine then would sail toward NATO and away from Russia," Communist Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin said.

In 2004, Yushchenko and Tymoshenko's deft mobilization of the public on Kiev's streets decided a stalemate following the presidential election in which Yanukovych was named victor but whose results were not recognized internationally.

President Vladimir Putin, however, quickly congratulated Yanukovych on his victory, only to be shamed later when Yushchenko easily won a rerun of the election.

Putin remained silent about Ukraine on Tuesday. Yushchenko had been scheduled to meet with Putin on Tuesday in Moscow, but he canceled the visit shortly before he disbanded the parliament on Monday.

The memory of Russia's clumsy attempt to influence the vote in 2004 will hold Moscow back this time, political analysts said.

Russian policymakers are not prepared to deal with public protests, said Sam Greene of the Carnegie Moscow Center.Fearing further volatility, Moscow can only demand that all sides negotiate a truce to avoid new parliamentary elections, he said.

The elections -- should they take place as demanded by Yushchenko -- would not upset the balance of pro-Western and pro-Russian politicians in Kiev, but only radicalize the pro-Western camp, said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs.