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'Pragmatic' Russia Won't Take Over Ukraine, Says Ambassador

Vitaly Churkin insisted Russia had no designs on eastern Ukraine but added that his country wants to stabilize its neighbor's political situation.

The Russian ambassador to the United Nations said his country has no plans to take over Ukraine following its annexation of Crimea — nor does Russian President Vladimir Putin have a "messianic" mission to restore the former Soviet Union.

"That's not true," Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said when asked by PBS' Charlie Rose during an interview Friday whether the formal annexation of Crimea was part of "some messianic mission by Vladimir Putin to restore what he considers the glory of the Soviet Union."

Putin on Friday ratified the Russian Parliament's treaty to formally annex Crimea — a moment Churkin described as "historic."

"We see it as a historic fact, historic day, that after 60 years of forced separation, Crimea and Russia have been finally reunified, something which has been the dream and aspirations of the people on the Crimea all those years," he told Rose.

The ambassador also said that Russia does not consider the current Ukrainian government legitimate, following the ouster of former President Viktor Yanukovich in February.

Churkin said he believes Ukraine was misled by the European Union's promises of funding and support.

"[The EU] are very good at giving — giving promises — then telling countries that they must obey them, political and economically, in order for those promises to materialize sometime in the 21st century," he said, adding that he believes that under an EU partnership, Ukraine's economy "would collapse because it could not withstand competition with the European Union."

Churkin was pointedly more optimistic about Russia's role in Europe and the world, saying that his country's objective is "to have excellent relationship between all of us. Our objective is to have common European space from Lisbon to Vladivostok."

He added, "We are much more pragmatic than messianic. I think Russia is on the rise."

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, one month after protesters toppled the pro-Moscow government, the country’s rural eastern border is the site of a Cold War-style standoff.

Ukrainians have dug a trench along their side of the border with Russia that's supposed to stop Russian troops and tanks from advancing into Eastern Ukraine.

In his interview with Rose, however, Churkin insisted Russia had no designs on eastern Ukraine — or the Baltic countries, for that matter — adding that his country is interested in stabilizing its neighbor's political situation.

"If we leave them alone, they will collapse because 3 million Ukrainians work in Russia and send like $20 billion of money every year to support their families," he said, suggesting that federalizing Ukraine could be a way of exiting the current crisis.

"Why Ukraine cannot be a federation, where people would be sure of their rights, where they will be sure that they can use the Russian language, where they can be sure that they will elect their own governors?"

Image: Ukrainian border guards run during exercises not far from Ukraine-Russia border
Ukrainian border guards run during exercises not far from the Alexeevka check point on the border between Ukraine and Russia, some 70 miles from Donetsk on Friday.ALEXANDER KHUDOTEPLY / AFP - Getty Images