Ukraine protests
Anti-government protesters carry an injured man on a stretcher after clashes with riot police in the Independence Square in KievReuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin is sending a top human rights coordinator to Kiev after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych called for direct intervention by Moscow.

In a telephone conversation with Putin, the embattled Yanukovych sought Russia's help to facilitate talks with the opposition which has launched a bloody campaign for his ouster.

"Vladimir Putin decided to entrust this mission to the Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin, who has extensive experience of diplomatic service, enjoys the respect of human rights activists and used to head a major opposition party," said a Kremlin statement.

The move has come at a time when the Ukrainian government is facing severe criticism from Western governments over the handling of the spiralling crisis which has already claimed scores of lives.

Till now, Russia has avoided any direct involvement in Ukrainian affairs. The ongoing protests themselves were sparked by a controversial move by Yanukovych to scrap a pro-EU deal widely seen as a gesture to please Russia.

The presence of Russia's top envoy in the middle of the crisis has the potential to worsen the situation as the Western powers are increasingly frustrated with Yanukovych.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has yet again condemned what he described as meddling by the EU and the US in Ukrainian affairs.

"The EU is mulling sanctions while paying uncalled-for visits to Ukraine. This behaviour looks like blackmail [to me]. Russia thinks that Ukraine opposition as well as western countries should stay apart from extremists and other radicals," said Lavrov prior to the EU sanctions.

The EU has already imposed sanctions and threatens to tighten the screws further if the situation worsens.

Voicing support for the Ukrainian administration led by Yanukovych, Lavrov, who is on a visit to Iraq, told reporters: "Our Western partners in Europe and the U.S. are laying all the blame on the country's authorities and fail to properly qualify the extremists' actions.

"We are really concerned about this, because double standards are obvious here, and instead they are threatening [the government] with sanctions, and not only threatening, but the Americans have already imposed them, thereby encouraging the opposition to dismiss any compromises."