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Donetsk (Ukraine) (AFP) - Pro-Russian activists rallied in the eastern heartland of Ukraine's ousted leader on Saturday after Moscow threatened to cut off gas to its ex-Soviet neighbour following its tilt toward the West. Rallies in industrial cities that rely on Russia for trade and whose cultural roots lie closer to Moscow than Kiev come as Kremlin-backed troops tighten their grip on the flashpoint peninsula of Crimea. The predominantly Russian-speaking southern and eastern swathes of Ukraine have been in upheaval since three months of deadly protests brought new pro-European leaders to power in Kiev whom they view with disdain and mistrust. The Kremlin says the new rulers have fomented a lawless atmosphere of intimidation against ethnic Russians that President Vladimir Putin says prompted him to threaten to use force in Ukraine -- a shock decision that has sparked the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War.
Russia is open to having an "honest, equal" dialogue with foreign states on the crisis in Ukraine, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday. "We are open to an honest, equal and objective dialogue with our foreign partners to find a way to help all of Ukraine come out of the crisis," Lavrov said at a televised news conference in Moscow with his Tajik counterpart, in a clear reference to the West.