Russia and the West maneuvered on Tuesday ahead of a seemingly inevitable clash over Ukraine’s plan to hold a presidential election on May 25 that Western powers view as crucial to restoring stability and that the Kremlin says will be illegitimate, particularly if the government in Kiev cannot first stabilize the country. Senior Russian officials have repeatedly referred to the provisional government in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, as an illegitimate “junta.” From their perspective, allowing an election to go forward when no pro-Russian candidate has a real chance of winning would seriously weaken the Kremlin’s influence in Ukraine. It could also help the West coax the country out of Moscow’s orbit. Russia has made clear that it wants the election to be delayed. Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov pressed the point again on Tuesday, insisting that the interim government end bloodshed and amend the Constitution to devolve power to the regions — and that it do so before Ukrainians are asked to choose a new leader.
“Holding elections in a situation where the armed forces are being used against part of the population is rather unusual,” Mr. Lavrov said at a news conference in Vienna, where about 30 foreign ministers met under the auspices of the Council of Europe to discuss the situation in Ukraine.
“The criteria of any process involving citizen choice are well known to all,” Mr. Lavrov said, according to the Interfax news service. “Elections and referendums must be free and fair, and they must proceed in a situation excluding violence and under objective and unbiased international monitoring.”