GENEVA – Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday justified the use of Russian troops streaming into neighbouring Ukraine’s Crimea region as a necessary protection for his country’s citizens living there.

The use of Russian troops is necessary “until the normalization of the political situation” in Ukraine, Lavrov said at an opening of a month-long session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

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“This is a question of defending our citizens and compatriots, ensuring human rights, especially the right to life,” Lavrov said.

Ukraine has accused Russia of a military invasion and has called on the Kremlin to withdraw its troops. Lavrov dismissed the criticism, and said that “new provocations are being committed, including against the Russian Black Sea fleet,” which is based in Ukraine’s Crimea, a strategic peninsula now effectively under Russian control.

“Those who are trying to interpret the situation as a sort of aggression and threatening sanctions and boycotts, these are the same partners of ours who have consistently encouraged their political forces in the ultimatum to refuse dialogue and ultimately have polarized Ukrainian society,” Lavrov said. “We call upon them to show a responsibility and to set aside geopolitical calculations and put the interests of the Ukrainian people above all.”

Lavrov will meet later Monday with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to discuss the tense situation.

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“Human rights is too serious a matter to be used either as a bargaining chip in geopolitical games, or a means of imposing one’s will on others, not to mention as a pretext for regime-change operations,” Lavrov told the Council.

“As experience shows, military interventions on the pretext of civilian protection produce the opposite effect, compounding the sufferings of innocent civilians and depriving them of a fundamental human right, the right to life,” he said.

Ban said he would emphasize to Lavrov ways of de-escalating the crisis and may seek creation of a “contact group” led by Swiss President Didier Burkhalter in his role as chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

“Both sides should lower their temperature … and engage in a dialogue,” Ban told reporters.

©2014The Canadian Press