GLOBALPOST LIVE BLOG: UKRAINE STRUGGLES FOR UNITY
UPDATE: 4/18/14 4:00 PM ET
UPDATE: 4/18/14 3:40 PM ET
'You can't treat Russia like a guilty schoolboy'
The Kremlin on Friday described as unacceptable a US threat to impose sanctions if Russia fails to fulfill its side of an international deal on Ukraine, accusing the White House of treating Moscow like a "guilty schoolboy."
President Barack Obama said Thursday's deal in Geneva between Russia, Ukraine and Western powers to reduce tensions in the Russian-speaking east of Ukraine was promising but that Washington and its allies were prepared to impose more sanctions on Russia if the situation fails to improve.
"Statements like those made at a high level in Washington that the United States will follow in detail how Russia fulfills its obligations ... are unlikely to help dialogue," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said.
"You can't treat Russia like a guilty schoolboy who has to put a cross on a piece of paper to show he has done his homework," Peskov said in an interview with Russia's First Channel. "That kind of language is unacceptable."
UPDATE: 4/18/14 2:55 PM ET
US warns of sanctions against significant sectors of the Russian economy
The White House warned Russia on Friday that Moscow would face tougher sanctions if it failed to abide by a new international deal on Ukraine or moved to send Russian forces into eastern Ukraine.
"Those costs and sanctions could include targeting very significant sectors of the Russian economy," Susan Rice, President Barack Obama's national security adviser, told reporters.
She said Washington was watching very closely to see whether Russia met its obligations to use its influence to get pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine to disarm and abandon public buildings they had seized.
Separatists said on Friday they were not bound by the agreement brokered by the United States, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union in Geneva on Thursday.
Russia's envoy to the European Union, in the meantime, said the authorities in Kyiv had incorrectly interpreted an international deal to resolve the crisis in Ukraine, where rebellions have broken out in Russian-speaking eastern provinces.
"If we are speaking about how the Geneva document is being interpreted in Kyiv by the current authorities, then unfortunately they understood this incorrectly," Vladimir Chizhov told the Russian state television Rossiya-24.
"Particularly that it only applies to the eastern and southern provinces and those who are demanding federalism, but not to Kyiv, where (it thinks) everything is legal including the ongoing occupation of Maidan (Independence Square)."
The separatists said they would only leave their occupied buildings when the Maidan protesters left as well.
This was the Maidan a month ago:
UPDATE: 4/18/14 1:05 PM ET
The separatists have some fangirls
Meanwhile, there's this priceless photo from Donetsk...
The caption reads: "Young women ask to take a photo of a pro-Russian activist who is part of a group occupying the Donetsk city government building on April 18, 2014 in Donetsk, Ukraine."
Is he a local militia man or one of the rumored "little green men" from Russia?
Here are some pro-Russia separatists outside the occupied building in Donetsk:
And then there's this...
UPDATE: 4/18/14 12:55 PM ET
Russia is not happy with the US' underwhelmed response
Reuters — Russia voiced disappointment on Friday with the US assessment of an international deal to defuse the crisis in Ukraine, saying the threat of new sanctions against Moscow by Washington was "completely unacceptable."
The Foreign Ministry accused US officials of seeking to whitewash what it said was the use of force by the Ukrainian government against protesters in the country's mainly Russian-speaking eastern provinces.
"American officials sounded ultimatums, and tried to threaten us with new sanctions, which is completely unacceptable," the ministry said in a statement.
Thursday's deal called among other things for all illegal armed groups to disarm and end occupations of public buildings in Ukraine's east. Armed pro-Russian separatists dismissed the accord, saying they were not bound by it.
President Barack Obama said the meeting in Geneva between Russia, Ukraine and Western powers was promising but that Washington and its allies were prepared to impose more sanctions on Russia if the situation fails to improve.
Moscow described Washington's stance as one-sided and said it was "disappointed" by its remarks after the talks, which seemed to offer the best hope of resolving a confrontation that has dragged relations to their lowest ebb since the Cold War.
"The blame for the Ukrainian crisis and its current aggravation is unreasonably being placed on Russia," the ministry said.
"The American side is once again stubbornly trying to whitewash the current actions of Kiev's authorities, who have embarked on a course for the violent suppression of protesters in the southeast who are expressing their legitimate indignation over the infringements of their rights."
UPDATE: 4/18/14 11:25 AM ET
Ukraine's leaders offer language concessions
Ukraine's acting president and prime minister offered some of their strongest pledges yet on Friday to strengthen constitutional rights to use the Russian language in a bid to defuse separatist protests.
In a joint televised address, acting President Oleksander Turchynov and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called for national unity, urged people to refrain from violence and said they would support constitutional change, decentralizing more power to local councils, including over their official language — a key demand of Russian-speakers.
UPDATE: 4/18/14 11:05 AM ET
'As far as I know, Maidan is legal'
Reuters — The Ukrainian government warned on Friday it could take "more concrete actions" next week if pro-Russian separatists do not end their occupations of public buildings under the terms of an international accord.
Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia gave no details and Kyiv has threatened to use force before to little effect. The minister also said that, despite demands from the separatists in the east, the government saw no need under its deal with Russia to dismantle the pro-European Maidan camp in Kyiv.
Asked whether there was a deadline for implementing the agreement on clearing occupied buildings, Deshchytsia told a news conference that he hoped this weekend's Easter holidays might ease tension and let monitors from Europe's OSCE security body oversee the process. He noted an amnesty was on offer.
"Hopefully, if those people are ready to leave the buildings, to surrender weapons, today, tomorrow, so we can encourage the OSCE mission to negotiate, to mediate and implement this," he said in English.
"But if this will not start in a few days, I think that after Easter there will more concrete actions."
He echoed other officials in saying that an "anti-terrorist" operation announced last week was continuing — though there has been little evidence of attempts to use force on the ground.
"Its intensity will depend on the practical implementation of this accord, on the real evacuation of occupied buildings and the handing over of weapons," he said of the operation.
Russia, Ukraine, the United States and European Union have agreed that: "All illegal armed groups must be disarmed; all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners; all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated."
Pro-Russian separatists have said they will not leave until activists whose protests helped topple the pro-Moscow president in February evacuate their barricaded camp known as Maidan.
But Deshchytsia said: "This is about streets and buildings which are illegally occupied by protesters. As far as I know, Maidan is legal."
Many of those on Maidan are suspicious of the government that took power through parliament after President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia and they say they will remain in place until after a presidential election scheduled for May 25.
UPDATE: 4/18/14 10:30 AM ET
'We are expecting nothing from Kyiv'
The self-declared leader of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Denis Pushilin, on Friday said he does not consider his men to be bound by an agreement between Russia and Ukraine requiring illegal groups to disarm and vacate buildings.
The Geneva agreement, signed by the United States, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union on Thursday, requires all illegal armed groups to disarm and end the illegal occupation of public buildings, streets and squares.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov "did not sign anything for us, he signed on behalf of the Russian Federation," Pushilin, head of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, told journalists in Donetsk.
"We will persevere until the end," he said, flanked by two masked men in the occupied building of the Donetsk city administration.
Strong feelings on the Donetsk barricades pic.twitter.com/v8w8lWdNXg— Daniel Sandford (@BBCDanielS) April 18, 2014
Ukraine announced a military-backed operation last weekend to flush out pro-Russian rebels who have taken over state buildings including police stations in the Donbass region, though the operation faltered when pro-Russian forces seized several army troop carriers.
The diplomatic agreement in Geneva was seen as the best chance for reducing tensions in the region.
Pushilin said his men will only consider leaving public buildings when the government in Kyiv, which he said was showing no signs of fulfilling its part of the Geneva deal, does the same.
"As far as vacating of buildings and areas is concerned — everyone must leave them including Yatsenyuk and Turchynov — as they also took them illegally," he said. "We are ready to do it after them."
Preparations for a regional referendum on increased autonomy from Kyiv will go ahead as planned, he said.
"We are expecting nothing from Kyiv," he said. "The date for referendum is not changing, no later than May 11."
Pushilin said any calls for pro-Russian separatists to disarm should be matched by a withdrawal of the Ukrainian military from the east Ukraine cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk.
"We do not want double standards," he said.
UPDATE: 4/18/14 7:40 AM ET
The separatists aren't budging, and neither is the Maidan
Reuters — Armed pro-Russian separatists were still holding public buildings in eastern Ukraine on Friday, saying they needed more assurances about their security before they comply with an international deal ordering them to disarm.
The agreement, brokered by the United States, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union in Geneva on Thursday offered the best hope to date of defusing a stand-off in Ukraine that has dragged East-West relations to their lowest level since the Cold War.
Enacting the agreement on the ground though will be difficult, because of the deep mistrust between the pro-Russian groups and the Western-backed government in Kyiv, which this week flared into violent clashes that killed several people.
The fact any deal was reached at all came as a surprise, and it was not immediately clear what had happened behind the scenes to persuade the Kremlin, which had up to that point shown little sign of compromise, to join calls on the militias to disarm.
In Slovyansk, a city that has become a flashpoint in the crisis after men with Kalashnikovs took control last weekend, leaders of the pro-Russian gunmen were holding a meeting early on Friday inside one of the buildings they seized on how to respond to the Geneva agreement.
On the street, there was little change. In front of the Slovyansk mayor's office, men armed with Kalashnikovs peered over sandbags which had been piled higher overnight. Separatists remained in control of the city's main streets, searching cars at checkpoints around the city.
"Are we going to leave the buildings so that they can come and arrest us? I don't think so," said a man guarding the road to the security office, another building the separatists seized, who identified himself as Alexei.
But he acknowledged that the Geneva talks had changed the situation.
"It turns out Vova doesn't love us as much as we thought." said Alexei, using a diminutive term for Vladimir Putin, the Russian president viewed by many of the separatist militias in eastern Ukraine as their champion and protector.
Pro-Russian militants control buildings in about 10 towns in eastern Ukraine after launching their uprising on April 6.
Separatists occupying a local government building in the city of Donetsk said they would not leave until supporters of Ukraine's new government quit their camp around the Maidan.
Asked how his group will react to the accord in Geneva, Alexander Zakharchenko, a protest leader inside the Donetsk regional government building, told Reuters by telephone:
"If it means all squares and public buildings, then I guess it should start with the Maidan in Kyiv. We'll see what they do there before we make our decision here."
In Luhansk, another city where pro-Russian separatists are occupying public buildings, a militia member called Andrey said his group had no plans to withdraw.
"Everything on the ground is the same as it was yesterday and the day before and the day before that. We're not leaving."
In the capital, Kyiv, people on the Maidan, the local name given to Independence Square which was the center of protests that eventually toppled Yanukovych, said the barricades would not come down until the May 25 presidential election.
"People will not leave the Maidan. The people gave their word to stay until the presidential elections so that nobody will be able to rig the result. Then after the election we'll go of our own accord," said 56-year-old Viktor Palamaryuk from the western town of Chernivtsi.
"Nobody will take down our tents and barricades," said 34-year-old Volodymyr Shevchenko from the southern Kherson region. "If the authorities try to do that by force, thousands and thousands of people will come on to the Maidan and stop them."
UPDATE: 4/16/14 4:45 PM ET
UPDATE: 4/17/14 4:10 PM ET
Can't be sure of anything, says a skeptical Obama
When President Barack Obama was asked about his confidence in the Ukraine deal, he responded: "I don't think we can be sure of anything at this point.
"There is ... the prospect that diplomacy may de-escalate the situation and that we may be able to move toward what has always been our goal, which is to allow Ukrainians to make decisions about their own lives," he said, according to the Guardian.
On Russia signing the agreement, Obama said, "The question now becomes will they in fact use the influence that they've asserted in a disruptive way, or to restore some order so Ukrainians can carry out an election, move forward... we're not going to know whether in fact there's follow-through on these statements for several days."
Obama maintained his skepticism, saying, "My hope is that we do see follow... I don't think given past performance that we can count on that."
UPDATE: 4/17/14 2:20 AM ET
'We won't go until they do'
Reuters — Pro-Russian separatists occupying a local government building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk said on Thursday they would not leave until supporters of Ukraine's new government quit their camp around Kyiv's main square, known as the Maidan.
Asked how his group would react to an international accord in Geneva under which the Ukrainian and Russian governments agreed that illegal occupations of buildings and squares must end, Alexander Zakharchenko, a protest leader inside the Donetsk regional government building, told Reuters by telephone:
"If it means all squares and public buildings then I guess it should start with the Maidan in Kyiv. We'll see what they do there before we make our decision here."
Ukrainian nationalists and other groups who helped overthrow the Moscow-backed president in Kyiv two months ago have maintained barricades around the Maidan. Many have said they will not leave until they are satisfied by the result of a presidential election to be held on May 25.
This was the scene in Kyiv two days ago:
UPDATE: 4/17/14 1:10 PM ET
Full statement from Geneva
Here is the full statement of the agreement that came out of talks between the US, the EU, Russia and Ukraine (via Kyiv Post):
The Geneva meeting on the situation in Ukraine agreed on initial concrete steps to de-escalate tensions and restore security for all citizens.
All sides must refrain from any violence, intimidation or provocative actions. The participants strongly condemned and rejected all expressions of extremism, racism and religious intolerance, including anti-semitism.
All illegal armed groups must be disarmed; all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners; all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated.
Amnesty will be granted to protestors and to those who have left buildings and other public places and surrendered weapons, with the exception of those found guilty of capital crimes.
It was agreed that the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission should play a leading role in assisting Ukrainian authorities and local communities in the immediate implementation of these de-escalation measures wherever they are needed most, beginning in the coming days. The U.S., E.U. and Russia commit to support this mission, including by providing monitors.
The announced constitutional process will be inclusive, transparent and accountable. It will include the immediate establishment of a broad national dialogue, with outreach to all of Ukraine’s regions and political constituencies, and allow for the consideration of public comments and proposed amendments.
The participants underlined the importance of economic and financial stability in Ukraine and would be ready to discuss additional support as the above steps are implemented.
UPDATE: 4/17/14 1:05 PM ET
What if separatists don't lay down their arms?
Kerry was asked what would happen if pro-Russian separatists refused to lay down arms. He responded that the responsibility would lie with those who equipped and organized the groups. "We have made it very clear that Russia has huge impact on all these forces," Kerry said, referring to the West's assertions that Russia has influence over some of the groups.
UPDATE: 4/17/14 12:55 PM ET
Kerry outlines the agreement
The United States, Russia, Ukraine and the EU have decided to support the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to begin a mission of de-escalation in Ukraine, including providing monitors, according to Kerry.
Ukraine's interim leaders have agreed to constitutional reform that would protect the rights of minorities and give Ukraine's regions greater autonomy, Kerry said.
Kerry also said the United States expected Russia to persuade pro-Russian separatists to lay down their arms and pursue their agenda through peaceful methods.
"We will have no choice but to impose further costs on Russia" if there is no progress in the situation, Kerry said.
UPDATE: 4/17/14 12:45 PM ET
The four sides have agreed on something
Reuters — The United States, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union on Thursday together called for an immediate halt to violence in Ukraine, where Western powers believe Russia is fomenting a pro-Russian separatist movement.
"All sides must refrain from any violence, intimidation or provocative actions," said a joint statement released after the four foreign ministers met in Geneva. "All illegal armed groups must be disarmed; all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners."_________________________________________________________________________________
GlobalPost's Greg Feifer noted that the tone in Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's statement was a marked departure from previous statements. Lavrov did not call for federalization in Ukraine, something that Putin and other Russian officials have called for in the past few weeks.
Lavrov also called for all illegal military formations in Ukraine to disband, and for amnesty for all protesters. He said that the crisis in the east was for Ukrainians to solve, and called for constitutional reform.
UPDATE: 4/17/14 12:20 PM ET
US approves sending non-lethal military aid to Ukraine
Reuters — The United States will send additional non-lethal military support to Ukraine, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Thursday, in the latest US move to reassure allies following Russia's annexation of Crimea and a buildup of Russian forces on the Ukrainian border.
"Earlier this morning I called Ukraine's acting defense minister to tell him that President Obama has approved additional non-lethal military assistance for health and welfare items and other supplies," Hagel said, speaking at a Pentagon news conference after talks with Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak.
The new support follows NATO's announcement on Wednesday that it would send more ships, planes and troops to eastern Europe "within days." NATO has made clear it will not intervene militarily in Ukraine, which is not a NATO member.
UPDATE: 4/17/14 12:10 PM ET
The pro-Ukrainians have come out again
There's a pro-Ukrainian rally taking place in Donetsk this evening. In recent days, the eastern Ukrainian city and region have seen pro-Russian separatists take over local government buildings and demand a referendum like the one Crimea held before joining Russia. The government in Kyiv and Western powers have accused Russia of having a hand in the unrest.
Kyiv Post reported that thousands had gathered for the rally, with 1,200 law enforcement officials expected to provide security.
Police at Donetsk unity rally just put their helmets on at the same time. Fears pro-Russian activists will attack the 1000 or so Ukrainians— max seddon (@maxseddon) April 17, 2014
UPDATE: 4/17/14 11:50 AM ET
The Ukrainian army is David in this situation
Agence France Presse talked to military experts about the Ukrainian army's humiliating failure on Wednesday.
"It was a mistake to launch an 'anti-terrorist operation' in the Donbass where the overwhelming majority is against the government," Ukrainian political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko told AFP. "Targeted operations against armed groups is one thing, but when there are tanks in the street, people block them."
A military expert at a think-tank in Kyiv criticized the leadership for hesitating to use force, saying that further weakened the army's resolve. Oleksiy Melnik, of the think-tank Razumkov, said, "The armored vehicles were stopped by unarmed civilians, who they cannot shoot. That showed how badly thought-through the operation was."
"These sorts of defeats are demoralizing the army, whose fighting spirit has already been undermined by the events in Crimea," he said, referring to how Ukrainian soldiers withdrew from the peninsula without offering Russian forces any resistance.
How does the size of Russia’s military compare to Ukraine’s? pic.twitter.com/B8gSz8iUAC— ABC News (@ABC) March 4, 2014
"The arguments that 'We mustn't provoke Russia' are absurd in the current situation, because Russia needs no pretext to carry out its plan. The reason behind what happened is government inaction," Melnik said.
Another military expert said Ukraine's best men and equipment are at the border — but they may not be able to defend against much beyond a first assault.
Ukrainian Army T-72 tank near Russian border, behind earthen berm. This evening. Ukraine wonders: Will Russia invade? pic.twitter.com/WLfeMnUIqs— C.J. Chivers (@cjchivers) March 16, 2014
UPDATE: 4/17/14 11:20 AM ET
Putin praises the Berkut riot police
During his marathon televised phone-in today, Russian President Vladimir Putin took a moment to praise Ukraine's now-disbanded Berkut riot police force.
Putin told a former Berkut officer, "There is no doubt you and your colleagues ... professionally and honorably carried out your duty," according to Reuters.
He said the decision to disband the Berkut after the deadly clashes in Kyiv's Independence Square in February would "backfire for the Ukrainian state because you cannot humiliate fighters and make kneel fighters who are defending the interests of the state."
The New York Times pointed out that Ukraine's military (which faced a humiliating defeat in Kramatorsk on Wednesday) and the national guard (which fended off a crowd of separatists in Mariupol overnight but killed three) were not trained or equipped to deal with a mixed crowd of armed separatists, local militia and unarmed civilians.
"Driving off the separatists in such a mixed crowd, or even trying to arrest them, would be a difficult task for a well-disciplined force with high morale. It would risk endangering civilians, potentially leading to bloodshed that might provoke a Russian military reaction."
UPDATE: 4/17/14 10:40 AM ET
Paratroopers who surrendered will be punished: Ukraine's president
Remember the humiliated Ukrainian soldiers from yesterday's misguided "anti-terrorist operation" in the eastern cities of Kramatorsk and Slovyansk?
Acting President Oleksander Turchynov said on Thursday that the entire paratrooper brigade would be disbanded, according to Reuters. Those who surrendered would be punished.
Kyiv Post quoted him saying, "The 25th airborne brigade that displayed cowardice and gave up to the enemy, will be disbanded. And the soldiers who are guilty of this will be held accountable in court."
This tweet is from BuzzFeed's Max Seddon who was actually near Slovyansk when the events unfolded:
Turchnyov: 25th Airborne captured in Kramatorsk are "cowards," will be disbanded and court-martialed. Astonishing disconnect from the ground— max seddon (@maxseddon) April 17, 2014
In his recap of the events on Wednesday, Seddon wrote this:
Standing on the hood of an armored personnel carrier as his ashen-faced paratroopers slumped behind him, Col. Alexander Shvets of Ukraine’s 25th Airborne reported back to command on a cheap cell phone.
“We’ve been taken captive. They used dirty tricks,” he said. The hundreds of local residents and ragtag militiamen that had surrounded his column of 13 APCs throughout Wednesday bayed. “Look,” he continued, losing his patience. “I’ve been surrounded by a human shield of 500 people all day. You don’t know what you’re fucking talking about.”
The 40 or so soldiers BuzzFeed found being held captive behind city hall in mid-afternoon, however, said they had not defected and refused to explain how they had wound up under the guard of ragtag militiamen with machine guns. “It’s a long story,” one of them said, shrugging his shoulders as he reclined against his pack.
Read the entire, fascinating recap at BuzzFeed.
Earlier on Wednesday, The Telegraph's Roland Oliphant spoke to soldiers who were surrounded by locals and did not want to fire on Ukrainian civilians.
And journalist Leonid Ragozin captured this candid moment:
"Are you tired?"-"We are completely fucked up". Paratroopers in Pchyolkino - no sleep for two nights. pic.twitter.com/E6sTMO49vF— Leonid Ragozin (@leonidragozin) April 16, 2014
UPDATE: 4/17/14 10:00 AM ET
Ukraine's interim leader says Putin is trying to wreck the election
Reuters — Ukraine's prime minister on Thursday accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to sabotage the country's upcoming presidential election and said Moscow was responsible for deaths in recent clashes in eastern Ukraine.
"Russia is playing only one game: further aggravation, further provocation, because the task, that Putin today officially announced, is to wreck the presidential election on May 25," Arseniy Yatsenyuk told journalists in Kyiv.
Putin on Thursday said Ukraine's presidential election campaign was being conducted in an unacceptable manner and Russia would not view its results as legitimate if the race continued in the same manner.
UPDATE: 4/17/14 8:10 AM ET
Ukraine's security service says it detained 10 Russians
Reuters — Ukraine is holding in detention about 10 Russian citizens, all of whom have intelligence backgrounds, the State Security Service (SBU) on Thursday.
Answering a journalist's question about comments made on Thursday by Russian President Vladimir Putin about the extent of Russian involvement in the Ukraine crisis, an SBU spokeswoman said: "We have about 10 Russians, with Russian passports, who have been detained.
"They have all had experience of intelligence work," she said. They were being investigated, she said.
UPDATE: 4/17/14 7:40 AM ET
Putin says Crimea's annexation happened because of NATO
Reuters — President Vladimir Putin on Thursday said Russia had been forced to respond to NATO enlargement and that its annexation of Crimea, home to its Black Sea Fleet, was partly influenced by the Western military alliance's expansion into eastern Europe.
Putin said Moscow will respond if the United States moves ahead with plans to base elements of a missile defense shield in eastern Europe, accusing Washington of fueling a Cold War-style arms race.
"When the infrastructure of a military bloc is moving toward our borders, it causes us some concerns and questions. We need to take some steps in response," Putin said in a televised call-in with the nation.
"Our decision on Crimea was partly due to ... considerations that if we do nothing, then at some point, guided by the same principles, NATO will drag Ukraine in and they will say: 'It doesn't have anything to do with you.'"
Putin accused the military bloc of 28 nations of seeking to squeeze Russia out of its historic stomping ground in the Black Sea region, where Russian warships are based in the Tsarist-era city of Sevastopol.
"NATO ships would have ended up in the city of Russian navy glory, Sevastopol," Putin said.
Putin said Moscow wants to continue talks with Washington over its objections to US missile defense plans, but would take all steps necessary to ensure its security.
The Ukraine crisis has left ties between Russia and the West at their lowest ebb since the Cold War.
Moscow has demanded binding guarantees from the United States and NATO that the defense system would not threaten Russian security, a non-starter in Washington because of strong opposition to any set restrictions on missile defenses.
"The deployment of these systems near our borders cancels out our strategic land-based missile positions ... We have to do something in response. It is fuelling an arms race," Putin said.
UPDATE: 4/17/14 7:10 AM ET
Three separatists were killed in worst bloodshed yet in eastern Ukraine
Reuters — Separatists attacked a base of the Ukrainian national guard overnight and Kyiv said three separatists were killed, the worst bloodshed yet in a 10-day pro-Russian uprising in east Ukraine, overshadowing crisis talks to resolve the conflict.
Ukrainian, Russian and Western diplomats arrived for the emergency talks in Geneva, but there was little hope of any progress in resolving a crisis that has seen armed pro-Russian fighters seize whole swathes of Ukraine, while Moscow masses tens of thousands of troops on the frontier.
At the national guard headquarters in Mariupol there was clear evidence that the building had come under attack.
A single grey police jeep was inside the compound on Thursday morning with broken windows, flat tires and bent doors. The gates of the compound had been flattened. There were shell casings outside the gates and several unused petrol bombs.
"They came here around 8:15 p.m., demanding that we surrender our weapons and join the people. There were some women with them, but then they left," said police major Oleksandr Kolesnichenko, deputy commander of the base.
"Then they used a truck to break through the gate. There was some incoming fire. I could not see who was shooting — it was dark," he said. "We fired first in the air. We fired warning shots after they entered the compound. We had no casualties. We are safe."
A separatist representative, who gave his name only as Sergei, said there had been a peaceful rally at the base.
"We had a peaceful rally to urge the police to join the people. The commander of the compound warned he would order troops to shoot to kill."
"Then there was shooting. Some people came with Molotov cocktails. We have verified that one person is dead and more than 10 wounded."
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said an armed group of about 300 separatists attacked the base with guns and petrol bombs. Three separatists were killed and 13 wounded, he said. No guardsmen were hurt.
The new deadly clashes took place hours after a modest Ukrainian military operation to recapture territory elsewhere from armed pro-Russian rebels ended in disarray on Wednesday, with troops surrendering rather than open fire.
UPDATE: 4/17/14 6:50 AM ET
Putin admits Russian troops were in Crimea, hopes he doesn't have to use military force in eastern Ukraine
Reuters — Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Ukraine's government needs to provide guarantees to its Russian-speaking population in the east of the country to resolve the crisis.
"The compromise must be found not between third party players but between the different political forces within Ukraine itself," Putin said in a televised call-in with the nation. "This is extremely important, it is the key issue."
Putin said Russia "would do everything possible" to help the Russian-speaking population in eastern Ukraine, where separatist rebellions have broken out.
But in a sign Russia is invested in international crisis talks being held in Geneva, Putin said that it was an illusion that force can solve all problems in international affairs.
"The Federation Council (the upper house of parliament) granted the president the right to use military force in Ukraine. I really hope that I do not have to exercise this right and that we are able to solve all today's pressing issues via political and diplomatic means," Putin said.
"We must do everything to help these people (in eastern Ukraine) defend their rights and independently determine their own destiny. This is what we're going to push for."
He also said that Russian forces had been active in Crimea in order to support local defense forces, the first time he has admitted deployment of Russian troops on the Black Sea peninsula.
"We had to take unavoidable steps so that events did not develop as they are currently developing in southeast Ukraine," Putin said in a televised call-in with the nation. "Of course our troops stood behind Crimea's self-defense forces."
UPDATE: 4/17/14 6:40 AM ET
Putin accuses Kyiv of dragging Ukraine 'into an abyss'
Reuters — Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Ukraine's decision to send armed forces into the east of the country instead of trying to establish a dialogue with the Russian-speaking population there was a "grave crime."
In a televised call-in with the nation, Putin also dismissed allegations that Russian forces were present in east Ukraine and emphasized the importance of international talks on the crisis taking place in Geneva.
Putin criticized the government in Kyiv for what he said was a mishandling of the situation in eastern Ukraine that is "dragging the country into an abyss."
"Instead of realizing that there is something wrong with the Ukrainian government and attempting dialogue, they made more threats of force ... this is another very grave crime by Kyiv's current leaders," he said.
"I hope that they are able to realize what a pit, what an abyss the current authorities are in and dragging the country into."
He said the Geneva talks were very important and urged the government in Kyiv to sit down to talks with Russian-speaking communities in the east.
"The start of today's talks are very important, because it is important that we together think about how to get out of the situation," Putin said.
He said claims that Russian forces were present in east Ukraine were "rubbish."
"It's all nonsense. There are no kinds of Russian units in eastern Ukraine. No special forces, no instructors. They are all local citizens."
UPDATE: 4/16/14 4:40 PM ET
UPDATE: 4/16/14 4:30 PM ET
What happened in eastern Ukraine?
So what exactly happened in eastern Ukraine today? Did Ukrainian soldiers defect? Were they humiliated? Did they abandon their armored vehicles?
Kyiv Post has a round-up of events that attempts to answer some of the questions:
The citizens of Kramatorsk, a city of 250,000 people, were outraged when several groups of Ukrainian paratroopers entered the city's suburbs on armored vehicles on the morning of April 16.
Confident that the army arrived to violently suppress the protesters, the civilians blocked some 18 vehicles with soldiers in two locations near Kramatorsk.
Six more vehicles were captured by armed insurgents in Kramatorsk and taken to Sloviansk, a city some 15 kilometers away, where the pro-Russian insurgents have been holding administrative buildings since April 12.
Dmitriy Di, a spokesman for the insurgents' People's Guard of Donbas, said the vehicles will be used "at least for blocking streets."
According to Di, a dozen Ukrainian soldiers who rode in the captured vehicles surrendered and took the insurgents' side. However, the insurgents kept the soldiers in the seized city hall and refused to let anyone see them or talk to them.
"This is crap. They could not surrender," said Dmytro, 19, one of the paratroopers blocked in Kramatorsk.
You can find the Kyiv Post's full account here.
And the UK's Telegraph produced this video dispatch from the tense scene of the standoff as Ukrainian jets buzzed overhead.
The Telegraph's piece attributed the Ukrainian soldiers reticence to not wanting to harm fellow Ukrainians.
"We’re just following orders," one paratrooper told the Telegraph. "Nobody wants a war."
UPDATE: 4/16/14 3:20 PM ET
More clues about the 'little green men'
The Financial Times has more on the "little green men":
The “separatists” do include at least some men previously in Crimea. Soldiers dressed in military fatigues but without insignia in Slovyansk told the Financial Times they had operated in the Black Sea peninsula then moved into eastern Ukraine several weeks ago — though they described themselves only as “Cossacks.”
The FT article pointed out that while the "green men" were more easily identifiable as Russian when they were in Crimea, they have taken greater pains to conceal their affiliations in eastern Ukraine, blending in with the pro-Russian local militia.
Still, experts pointed to their Russian military-issue boots and the grenade launchers some carried as equipment that set them apart.
UPDATE: 4/16/14 3:10 PM ET
'Russia has no plans to invade'
"Russia has no plans to intervene militarily, no plans to invade anybody — not Ukraine, not any other country; or to annex anything," Russia's ambassador to the EU told CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
"You do not calm a popular protest by sending troops, by declaring an anti-terrorist operation," Vladimir Chizhov said during the interview.
When Amanpour asked him about why people in eastern Ukraine were protesting, Chizov said, "They are doing that out of desperation, I suppose."
"Because those who have taken power in Kyiv, they have not been listening to the demands, to the requests of people in the eastern part of the country."
UPDATE: 4/16/14 2:45 PM ET
Loathing and lawlessness in eastern Ukraine
Underneath all the headlines, warnings and tension, there's real anger in eastern Ukraine.
Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk talked to residents in Slovyansk:
“For three months, we watched this scene on the Maidan and were against it, but no one listened to us,” said 55-year-old local Olga Vladimirovna, standing near the blockaded police station on Tuesday.
“We knew how this would all end,” Vladimirovna added. “We’re not stupid people here — we knew it would result in collapse.”
UPDATE: 4/16/14 2:25 PM ET
Humiliation for Ukrainian soldiers who set out on 'anti-terrorist operation'
This is Reuters' report on the goings on today in eastern Ukraine (the events of which still remain unclear for the most part):
Separatists flew the Russian flag on armored vehicles taken from the Ukrainian army on Wednesday, humiliating a Kyiv government operation to recapture eastern towns controlled by pro-Moscow partisans.
Six armored personnel carriers were driven into the rebel-held town of Slovyansk to waves and shouts of "Russia! Russia!" It was not immediately clear whether they had been captured by rebels or handed over to them by Ukrainian deserters.
Another 15 armored troop carriers full of paratroops were surrounded and halted by a pro-Russian crowd at a town near an airbase.
A Ukrainian officer said his men were not prepared to fire on fellow Ukrainians.
"I am a Ukrainian officer, that's the first thing. The other is that I will not shoot at my own people no matter what," said the officer who said he could not give his name as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
"I want things to be normal, people to go back home, not sit in some fields with weapons. I want children to see weapons only on TV ... I want us to live together as we were. And I want to be back home to my wife and child."
The crowd blockaded the troops until the commander of the unit, Colonel Oleksander Schvets, agreed to order his men to hand over the firing pins from their rifles to a separatist leader.
The military setback leaves Kyiv looking weak on the eve of a peace conference on Thursday, when its foreign minister will meet his Russian, US and European counterparts in Geneva._________________________________________________________________________________
BuzzFeed's Max Seddon captured the moment when Ukrainian soldiers were dismantling their guns:
UPDATE: 4/16/14 1:50 PM ET
Dire warnings from Ukraine's security service
Ukraine's Security Service, known as SBU, made some serious allegations against Moscow on Wednesday.
The SBU claimed that "a special reconnaissance and operations unit within the Moscow-based 45th Detached Reconnaissance Regiment of Russian Airborne Troops and military intelligence units from southern Russia are leading the insurgency," according to the Kyiv Post.
A high-ranking member of the state agency's counter-intelligence department, Vitaly Naida, said the Russians' objective was to "cause bloodshed on the streets of our cities" and provide a pretext for Russia to invade Ukraine.
Once "100-200" Ukrainians were killed, Naida predicted "in an hour-and-a-half, tanks and armored personnel carriers of the Russian army will appear on the territory of Ukraine."
The SBU also said Ukrainian citizens who were suspected of helping Russian security services had confessed and were actively cooperating with the investigation, according to the Kyiv Post.
When the Ukraine crisis first began spiraling into a territory issue between the former Soviet satellite and Russia, a former aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin told GlobalPost that Russia would stage attacks to give itself a reason to invade.
In early March, Andrei Illarionov, a former economic adviser to Putin, warned, "Right now, Russian special forces from the 22nd Brigade are in Ukraine, and we should expect staged attacks on Russian soldiers and citizens."
No attacks on Russian forces materialized, and Crimea was annexed by Russia with hardly any bloodshed.
UPDATE: 4/16/14 12:00 PM ET
Pay no attention to the 'little green men'
While TIME's piece explained how Ukraine's army was under-equipped, out of practice, and overly reliant on Russia for intelligence, The Economist pointed to the "little green men" — Russian special ops who may have infiltrated Ukraine.
"In the past week [Russia] has engineered a situation in which the Ukrainian government must either appear entirely ineffectual or risk attacking some of its own citizens and, in so doing, provide a pretext for further Russian action—even, perhaps, invasion," wrote The Economist.
It pointed out that Russia's defense ministry boasted just last year about the creation of a special unit who could act as "illegals" in neighboring countries.
Ukraine's Security Service released a video purportedly showing communication between Russian military intelligence and "subversion members" in Slovyansk. (You can find an excerpt at The Kyiv Post.)
Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the US House Intelligence committee also echoed the claim that Russians are already in Ukraine.
"There are Russian citizens who are, again, military and intelligence operatives in eastern Ukraine fomenting this trouble," Rogers told CNN on Tuesday. "They are recruiting, and there’s some level of training."
Here are some mentions of "green men" from reporters on the ground in Ukraine:
Green men on the square very jolly, on the other hand. pic.twitter.com/mRddbNiL9c— max seddon (@maxseddon) April 16, 2014
Boy in Sloviansk really curious about green man's rifle. Man shows it to him, father takes picture. pic.twitter.com/8PlZSR5D4Z— Leonid Ragozin (@leonidragozin) April 16, 2014
GlobalPost's own Dan Peleschuk got a friendly escort away from the scene of protests in Slovyansk yesterday when he told them he was an American journalist:
As many media outlets have pointed out, the men wear uniforms without insignia, as was seen in Crimea last month.
UPDATE: 4/16/14 11:35 AM ET
Ukraine's army is not ready to confront Russia
As evidenced by the events in Kramatorsk and Slovyansk so far today, Ukraine's army doesn't seem to be in full readiness to tackle the might of the Russian military.
Locals chat with the soldiers, hand them water and cigarettes. Friendly, laid-back atmosphere. Guns not loaded. pic.twitter.com/1QwuLtg89f— Olaf Koens (@obk) April 16, 2014
TIME's Simon Shuster took a closer look at the weaknesses in Ukraine's troops:
Like many of the leading men in Ukraine’s new military pecking order, Petr Mekhed wasn’t exactly ripe for the task of fending off a Russian invasion when he assumed the post of Deputy Defense Minister in February. His last tour of combat duty was about 30 years ago, during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, after which he reached the rank of colonel in the Red Army. When revolution in Ukraine broke out this winter, his wartime experience made him better equipped than most at defending the barricades of the Maidan protest camp in the center of Kiev. But it was not as useful in preparing him to lead his country into war. “For some issues I’ve had to sit down with a book and study up,” he says.
“We’ll never get anywhere through the use of military force,” he tells TIME.
UPDATE: 4/16/14 11:25 AM ET
Ukraine's PM calls on Russia to stop 'exporting terrorism'
Reuters — Ukraine's prime minister on Wednesday accused Russia of "exporting terrorism" to Ukraine by using covert forces to organize armed separatists who he said had attacked Ukrainian forces and occupied state buildings.
"The Russian government must immediately call off its intelligence-diversionary groups, condemn the terrorists and demand that they free the buildings," Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a government meeting.
"That is, if the Russian Federation is interested in stabilizing the situation, which I have significant doubts about," he added.
UPDATE: 4/16/14 11:00 AM ET
NATO steps up its involvement in eastern states
From Senior Correspondent Paul Ames:
NATO agreed on Wednesday to boost the defenses of its eastern members worried about the risk of spillover from the Ukraine conflict.
The decision will do little to calm the fears of Ukrainians who face the threat of civil war and Russian invasion, but it offers a modicum of comfort to Poland, Romania and the Baltic States.
"You will see deployments at sea, in the air, on land to take place immediately," NATO's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters at alliance headquarters in Brussels. "That means within days ... we have decided to implement immediately."
NATO officials said the moves would include increased air patrols over the eastern states, and dispatching warships to the Baltic and eastern Mediterranean seas. NATO is also expected to enhance command-and-control capabilities for eastern members, and the deployment of ground units for training and exercises with eastern allies.
Officials stressed the moves would be compliant with agreements struck with Russia at the end of the Cold War, even though many at NATO believe Russia's actions in Ukraine are in gross violation of those accords.
"Our decisions today are about defense, deterrence and de-escalation," Fogh Rasmussen said. "They are entirely in line with our international commitments."
The planned deployments fall short of Polish and Baltic demands for permanent NATO bases. Sources in Brussels said that would be a step too far for several allies who remain wary of further provoking Russia. They stressed however, that further defense moves could be adopted as the situation evolves.
Supreme Allied Commander in Europe Gen. Philip Breedlove said the new deployment would be sustainable until the end of this year and would be extended as needed. He told reporters several allied nations had come forward to offer forces.
Breedlove said Russia's moves in Ukraine marked a "paradigm shift" on the situation in Europe. The build up of 40,000 combat ready Russian troops along Ukraine's borders showed NATO had to reassess its capabilities, the US Air Force general told reporters.
Officials said there is a deeply somber mood within NATO's policy setting North Atlantic Council as the latest clashes in eastern Ukraine feed fears of imminent war. Breedlove said there was no sign Russia had pulled any of its troops back from the border in response to Western appeals.
In a further sign of allied concern, Breedlove said he was in contact with Washington to discuss levels of US troops that need to be based in Europe given the increased tension with Russia.
UPDATE: 4/16/14 10:25 AM ET
The clusterf*** in eastern Ukraine
The Ukrainian defense ministry finally confirmed that six armored vehicles were captured by pro-Russian militia near the city of Kramatorsk.
The ministry said locals blocked the path for the vehicles on Wednesday morning, according to the Kyiv Post.
"As a result of the blocking, extremists seized the vehicles and the column [of armored vehicles] headed towards [Slovyansk]." They are now in the hands of men "not related to the Armed Forces of Ukraine."
This is the scene near Kramatorsk:
14 Ukrainian APCs from 25th airborne brigade blocked by locals at Pchyolkino, near Kramatorsk. Talks under way pic.twitter.com/0vQsT8xRJE— Leonid Ragozin (@leonidragozin) April 16, 2014
"Are you tired?"-"We are completely fucked up". Paratroopers in Pchyolkino - no sleep for two nights. pic.twitter.com/E6sTMO49vF— Leonid Ragozin (@leonidragozin) April 16, 2014
This anti terror op is not going well. Pro Russian militia posing on what they say is captured Ukrainian armour. pic.twitter.com/1tF19KlKUL— Roland Oliphant (@RolandOliphant) April 16, 2014
And BuzzFeed's Max Seddon is in Slovyansk:
The soldiers in Slavyansk appear to be prisoners of militiamen. Now lining up under guard of protesters waiting to be addressed. None armed— max seddon (@maxseddon) April 16, 2014
Asked whether the Ukrainian soldiers had defected and how they wound up in Slavyansk. Best answer I got was "It's a long story."— max seddon (@maxseddon) April 16, 2014
Utterly bizarre scenes just now in Slavyansk. About 40 Ukrainian troops who said they hadn't defected were loaded onto buses and left town.— max seddon (@maxseddon) April 16, 2014
Here are the presumably captured Ukrainian paratroopers from the 25th Airbone waiting to go back. Very glum pic.twitter.com/QAfLrHIIx4— max seddon (@maxseddon) April 16, 2014
UPDATE: 4/16/14 8:40 AM ET
Would this be defined as defection in military terms or...
Reuters — Armored personal carriers driven into the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk had been under the control of Ukrainian armed forces earlier on Wednesday, pictures taken by Reuters photographers showed.
A soldier guarding one of six troop carriers now under the control of pro-Russian separatists told Reuters he was a member of Ukraine's 25th paratrooper division from Dnipropetrovsk.
"All the soldiers and the officers are here. We are all boys who won't shoot our own people," said the soldier, whose uniform did not have any identifying markings on it.
"They haven't fed us for three days on our base. They're feeding us here. Who do you think we are going to fight for?" he said.
Armored personnel carriers marked with the numbers 815, 842 and 847 were among six under Ukrainian control in the center of Kramatorsk early on Wednesday. They were seen under the control of pro-Russian separatists in the center of Slovyansk later.
Ukrainian soldiers with the vehicles in Kramatorsk on Wednesday morning identified themselves as members of the 25th paratrooper division.
Some Kramatorsk locals gave tea and food to the Ukrainian soldiers, who appeared dirty and tired and said they had been on "exercises" for four days.
A civilian in Kramatorsk who identified himself as Felix told Reuters he had seen Ukrainian forces give up their vehicles to armed pro-Russian separatists.
A YouTube video showing vehicles with the same markings appeared to show Ukrainian troops peacefully abandoning their vehicles to heavily armed pro-Russian separatists.
UPDATE: 4/16/14 7:35 AM ET
Ukrainian army stops for civilians
One thing is clear about the events in Ukraine on Wednesday so far: Ukrainian troops headed toward the towns of Kramatorsk and Slovyansk in the eastern Donetsk region, after capturing the former's airfield on Tuesday.
The BBC said, "They were blocked by civilians and it is unclear whether they have any control of the town" of Kramatorsk.
Insane. The Ukrainian army here just outside of Kramatorsk, halted by a bunch of locals pic.twitter.com/4PyeCtsfcX— Olaf Koens (@obk) April 16, 2014
13 armored Ukrainian vehicles from Dnepropetrovsk 25th brigade stopped by crowds outside Kramatorsk. Fighter flying very low overhead— max seddon (@maxseddon) April 16, 2014
Locals calmly milling around APCs by the railroad tracks chatting with soldiers. Everyone waves as Moscow-Kislovodsk train passes. Surreal— max seddon (@maxseddon) April 16, 2014
The Kyiv Post reported this about the troops in Kramatorsk:
The Kyiv Post's journalists on the ground are reporting that Ukrainian troops, surrounded by civilians and pro-Russian insurgents in Kramatorsk, began flying a Russian flag after speaking with the self-proclaimed mayor of Sloviansk.
After defecting, the troops traveled in armored personnel carriers together with Kremlin-backed soldiers with no military insignia to Sloviansk, which is 15 kilometers north of Kramatorsk. A video shows a tank also in the city of Kramatorsk together with the APCs.
The Kyiv Post noted that the Ukrainian defense ministry denied the defection.
Video of Ukrainian troops leaving APCs, no evidence of defecting http://t.co/c8cEysQGBg— Myroslava Petsa (@myroslavapetsa) April 16, 2014
Ukrainian military vehicles here in the center of Slavyansk. The pro-Russian militias have taken control of them pic.twitter.com/uxW0y6CKaO— Olaf Koens (@obk) April 16, 2014
However, this is what Reuters reported about the tanks in Slovyansk:
The 20 tanks and armored personnel carriers sent to Slovyansk were the most forceful response yet by the Western-backed government in Kyiv to the pro-Kremlin militants' occupation of state buildings in nearly 10 cities across Ukraine's rust belt.
"They must be warned that if they do not lay down their arms, they will be destroyed," Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) General Vasyl Krutov told a group of reporters tracking the sudden tank movements.
He insisted that the militants were receiving support from several hundred soldiers from the Russian army's Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) that had been dispatched to Slovyansk and surrounding villages.
In short, there is no confirmation of defections and the Ukrainian defense ministry denies seizure as well... we'll be following the mystery of the Ukrainian APCs with Russian flags, as well as the movement of Ukrainian troops today.
UPDATE: 4/16/14 7:20 AM ET
Putin warns of civil war
Agence France-Presse — Russian leader Vladimir Putin warned that Ukraine is on the verge of civil war, the Kremlin said Wednesday, after the Kyiv government sent in troops against pro-Moscow separatists in the east of the country.
"The Russian president remarked that the sharp escalation of the conflict has placed the country, in effect, on the verge of civil war," the Kremlin said in a statement on telephone talks between Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
But the leaders both "emphasized the importance" of planned four-way talks on Ukraine on Thursday between top diplomats of Russia, the European Union, the United States and Ukraine.
UPDATE: 4/16/14 7:00 AM ET
Not quite the Crimea playbook
There are significant differences in how Russia intervened in Crimea and how it is now influencing eastern Ukraine. Reuters reports:
Unlike the Black Sea peninsula, where thousands of Russian troops were already based at ex-Soviet naval facilities leased from Ukraine, there is little clear evidence of Moscow deploying significant forces on the ground in the east of the country.
In eastern towns where armed, pro-Russian rebels have seized public buildings and raised the Russian flag, some gunmen identify themselves to journalists as "Russians" — but that says little about citizenship in Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine.
They appear to be irregulars. If adept at barricading town halls, they lack the elite kit and well-drilled bearing of forces in Crimea — some of whom identified themselves to Ukrainian soldiers as Russian troops, despite Moscow's denials.
If Russia is playing a role on the ground in eastern Ukraine — something the Kremlin has again strenuously denied in the face of accusations from Kiev and the West — it is more arm's length than it was in Crimea, and annexation may not be its objective.
Read the full piece here for more key differences in each scenario.
UPDATE: 4/15/14 4:00 PM ET
UPDATE: 4/15/14 3:25 PM ET
Oh Europe, where art thou?
Senior Correspondent Paul Ames writes about Europe's feeble response to the Ukraine crisis:
As tension mounts in eastern Ukraine, Europe's declarations of a strong and united response are starting to sound as credible as Russia's claims not to be involved in fomenting the unrest.
Stefan Meister, an expert in EU-Russia relations at the European Council on Foreign Relations, says the group’s reaction to the latest escalation is consistent with its response throughout the crisis. “It's just not sufficient. It's the minimum,” he says.
"EU member states can’t agree on serious sanctions on Russia," he said in a telephone interview from his office in Berlin. "They have economic interests in Russia and they can agree on neither energy sanctions nor financial sanctions, that's the problem."
UPDATE: 4/15/14 3:00 PM ET
Where is Horlivka? And what about Kramatorsk?
For all your geographical needs, The Wall Street Journal created a map of which eastern Ukrainian cities have been hit with unrest in recent weeks:
UPDATE: 4/15/14 2:05 PM ET
UN chief expressed his alarm to Putin
This is what the UN had to say about Ban's phone call with Putin (via Reuters):
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone conversation on Tuesday and expressed his alarm at the highly volatile situation in eastern Ukraine, Ban's press office said in a statement.
"The Secretary-General ... underlined that any deepening of the crisis would be profoundly detrimental for all concerned; hence the need for everyone to work to de-escalate the situation," the statement said.
UPDATE: 4/15/14 1:45 PM ET
Putin calls on international community to condemn Ukraine's use of force
Putin has asked the international community, via UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, to condemn the Ukrainian authorities' use of force in the east of the country.
In a telephone conversation with Ban, Putin "underscored that the Russian side expects a clear condemnation from the United Nations and the international community of these anti-constitutional actions," a Kremlin statement said.
UPDATE: 4/15/14 1:40 PM ET
The White House throws its support behind Kyiv
Reuters — Ukraine's actions against pro-Russian militiamen in the country's eastern region are called for because of the threat to law and order in the country, the White House said on Tuesday.
"The Ukrainian government has the responsibility to provide law and order and these provocations in eastern Ukraine are creating a situation in which the government has to respond," White House spokesman Jay Carney said at a briefing.
The United States is "seriously considering" new sanctions against Russia, but is not considering providing lethal aid to Ukraine, he said._________________________________________________________________________________
Carney prefaced his statement with praise for Ukraine's "measured response," according to the Guardian:
“We understand the government of Ukraine is working to try to calm the situation in the east and note the measured approach of the Ukrainian security forces thus far,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney.
He said the Ukrainians had repeatedly sought to negotiate a peaceful resolution with armed groups occupying the building in eastern cities and made clear that use of force was not its “preferred action.”
UPDATE: 4/15/14 1:20 PM ET
Conflicting reports on casualties
This is Reuters' report on Russia's version of events:
Russia said it was deeply concerned on Tuesday over reports of casualties in eastern Ukraine, where Kyiv has launched an operation against pro-Russian separatists.
"The reports we are getting cause deep concern. To all appearances, events are beginning to develop under the worst case scenario," Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian foreign ministry's human rights representative, was quoted by state news agency RIA as saying.
Russian media has exaggerated the extent of clashes, with Russia Today earlier apparently claiming 11 deaths at the airfield.
The UN released a report today saying propaganda had added fuel to the conflict in Ukraine, though it did not explicitly lay the blame at the Russian media's door.
Ukraine's defense ministry, in the meantime, said no Ukrainian troops were injured in the takeover of Kramatorsk's airfield, according to Kyiv Post.
UPDATE: 4/15/14 1:05 PM ET
Anger and paranoia simmer among Slovyansk residents
More from Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk in Slovyansk:
Following the seizure of this eastern city in Ukraine's industrial heartland by pro-Russian forces, an outpouring of anger and paranoia appears to have colored the local atmosphere.
As local anti-Kyiv protesters demonstrated outside the occupied police headquarters on Tuesday, a group of angry, middle-aged women seized another local woman, slamming her as a "provocateur" after a disagreement during a debate.
They demanded to see the woman's passport, ostensibly to prove she was in fact a local and eventually chased her away with threats of physical violence.
Residents here and in other parts of Ukraine's pro-Russian east have denounced what they say is a propaganda campaign waged by the new authorities aimed at discrediting them.
There are also strong anti-Western sentiments.
After introducing himself as an American reporter, a GlobalPost reporter was forcefully led away from the occupied city council building by an armed rebel, directed toward a nearby church and told to "go talk to a priest if you want to know about our Slavic character because you're not welcome here."
This was Slovyansk 9 hours ago:
Sloviansk very quiet this morning pic.twitter.com/q7eh0c6C1M— Daniel Sandford (@BBCDanielS) April 15, 2014
UPDATE: 4/15/14 12:55 PM ET
'I will not leave here'
From Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk in Slovyansk:
Local residents of this crumbling, former industrial city remained defiant on Tuesday afternoon even as fears grew of an imminent Ukrainian military incursion into Slovyansk.
"Those soldiers who have a conscience won't shoot at us," said 48-year-old Irina Viktorovna, who was standing near the barricades erected by pro-Russian activists.
"But I will not leave here," she added.
By early evening, pro-Russian rebels had restricted access through several roadblocks around town.
This was the crowd Slovyansk two days ago, as captured by photojournalist Maxim Dondyuk on his Instagram feed:
UPDATE: 4/15/14 12:25 PM ET
'I am here to protect you'
Reuters — Ukrainian airborne troops landed in a town in the east of the country on Tuesday after the defense ministry announced it was launching a "special operation" there against pro-Russian separatists.
The town of Kramatorsk is one of 10 localities in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east where separatist rebellions have broken out and the move suggested Ukraine's authorities were going ahead with a plan for a broad military crackdown to end the unrest which began 10 days ago.
Separately, the state security service announced a similar operation had got underway in the town of Slovyansk, about 20 km away where pro-Russia militants are occupying state buildings to push their demands for referendums on the status of Ukraine's eastern regions.
In Slovyansk, a Reuters correspondent said there was no sign of any forces loyal to Kyiv, and no evidence of fighting.
The troops disembarked in Kramatorsk from two military helicopters after an air force plane made what appeared to be an unsuccessful attempt to land at the airfield where separatists had set up barricades at the entrance.
This correspondent heard several shots fired from inside the base as a crowd of separatist sympathizers moved towards the gates, but these appeared to be warning shots.
There were no clashes.
A Ukrainian general, Gennady Krutov, who identified himself as the commander of the anti-terrorist operation, told the crowd: "We have information that there is shooting going on in here. I came here to clarify that.
"There is an anti-terrorist operation going on in here. I am here to protect you. I address you as citizens of our common country," he said.
But he was met by abusive chants and cries of "Hands off the Donbass," a name for the surrounding region of eastern Ukraine, which is mainly Russian-speaking.
As talks grew heated, the crowd numbering several hundred jostled the general who at one point lost his hat in the commotion._________________________________________________________________________________
BuzzFeed's Max Seddon is at Slovyansk's airfield:
Two helicopters fly off from Slavyansk airfield as a couple hundred local residents march there. "They're scared," one woman says— max seddon (@maxseddon) April 15, 2014
Slavyansk residents are marching to defend their local airstrip, which is a cornfield with no fuel, working planes, or real runway— max seddon (@maxseddon) April 15, 2014
GlobalPost's Dan Peleschuk was in Slovyansk earlier today and said that while tense, it appeared to be calm:
All mostly quiet in central Slovyansk. pic.twitter.com/qJMYrXJzV3— Dan Peleschuk (@dpeleschuk) April 15, 2014
UPDATE: 4/15/14 11:55 AM ET
Ukraine retakes an airfield
Reuters — Ukraine retook the airfield in the Ukrainian town of Kramatorsk from pro-Russian militants, acting President Oleksander Turchynov said on Tuesday in a statement from his office.
UPDATE: 4/15/14 11:50 AM ET
Ukraine's 'anti-terrorist operation' commander wants to destroy the 'foreign invader'
The Guardian's Alec Luhn earlier spoke to the Ukrainian commander who was outside Kramatorsk airfield. The commander, identified as Krutov, told Luhn that more than 300 Russian forces had entered the Luhansk region on Monday.
"We need to destroy this foreign invader," Krutov said. "We have among these spies Russian military, professionals with long experience in all sorts of conflicts."
Asked if another ultimatum would be given to those who had seized buildings, Krutov said that would be "too humanitarian." He said civilian casualties were possible but his forces would try to "make sure not one innocent person suffers."
Locals have set up a barricade outside Kramatorsk airfield. Anti-terrorist operation commander Krutov talking to angry crowd— Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) April 15, 2014
Who were you shooting at? Locals demand of Krutov— Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) April 15, 2014
Are we terrorists!? Locals yell at anti-terrorist operation commander— Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) April 15, 2014
Hands off Donbass! Locals chant, crowded around government commander— Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) April 15, 2014
UPDATE: 4/15/14 11:35 AM ET
Heavy gunfire reported at Kramatorsk
The Associated Press released this breaking update:
An Associated Press reporter has heard heavy gunfire at an airport in eastern Ukraine after the government sent in army troops to retake control from pro-Russian militiamen.
The mayor of Kramatorsk said Ukrainian troops have now occupied the military airport and are blocking its entrance.
The shooting has ended in Kramatorsk where an anti-terrorist operation is underway, reports Interfax Ukraine.
It's unclear how serious the shooting was, and whether there were any injuries. Olaf Koens is there:
Automatic weapons just fired here at the airbase in Kramatorsk. Ukrainian soldiers telling the 300+ to back off— Olaf Koens (@obk) April 15, 2014
UPDATE: 4/15/14 11:25 AM ET
NATO tells Russia to stop being part of the problem
On Monday, when Obama talked to Putin, the Russian leader dismissed reports of Russian involvement in Ukraine as "unreliable."
Ukraine, the United States, many member states of the European Union — and now NATO — disagree.
Russia is deeply involved in the crisis in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Moscow separatists have seized control of a number of government buildings, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Tuesday.
The remarks from the head of the western military alliance underline rising tensions with Moscow, which says it is not involved in the armed pro-Russian protests in eastern Ukraine.
Asked if he had seen evidence of Russian involvement in events in eastern Ukraine, Rasmussen told reporters: "We never...comment on intelligence, but I think from what is visible, it is very clear that Russia's hand is deeply engaged in this."
Relations between NATO and Russia have turned icy since Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea region last month. NATO, accusing Russia of massing forces on Ukraine's border, has also suspended cooperation with Moscow.
Rasmussen, in Luxembourg for talks with European Union defense ministers, called on Russia to "de-escalate the crisis, to pull back its troops from Ukraine's borders, to stop destabilizing the situation in Ukraine and make clear that it doesn't support the violent actions of pro-Russian separatists."
"Russia should stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution."
Military action by NATO, which is focused on protecting its own 28 members from Poland to Canada, is not on the agenda.
UPDATE: 4/15/14 11:15 AM ET
Propaganda has made the situation in Ukraine more volatile
Reuters on the United Nations' report on propaganda in Ukraine:
Ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine have falsely claimed to be under assault to justify Russian intervention, the UN human rights office said on Tuesday in a report that warned of an impact on the May 25 election if propaganda persisted.
Russia declared Ukraine on the brink of civil war on Tuesday as Kyiv said an "anti-terrorist operation" against pro-Moscow separatists was under way, with troops and armored personnel carriers seen near a flashpoint eastern town.
The crisis began after protesters seeking closer Ukrainian ties with the West toppled its Moscow-backed president in February. Russia then seized and annexed Ukraine's Crimea region after its ethnic Russian majority backed the move in a referendum, which the West condemned as an illegal sham.
"Although there were some attacks against the ethnic Russian community, these were neither systematic nor widespread," the UN human rights office said in its report issued after two visits to the former Soviet republic last month by UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic.
"Photographs of the Maidan protests greatly exaggerated stories of harassment of ethnic Russians by Ukrainian nationalist extremists," it said, "and misinformed reports of them coming armed to persecute ethnic Russians in Crimea were systematically used to create a climate of fear and insecurity that reflected on support to integration of Crimea into the Russian Federation."_________________________________________________________________________________
Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk wrote about what the average Russian citizen heard about Ukraine in March:
Ukraine’s new authorities are an ultranationalist, neo-fascist gang who’ve seized power with covert Western support and are bent on marauding Russian-speaking southeastern Ukraine and forcing its peaceful citizens into submission at gunpoint.
That’s probably what you’d believe if you relied on Russian state television for news about Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula last week.
UPDATE: 4/15/14 11:00 AM ET
The scene at Kramatorsk airfield
From Alec Luhn, who writes for the Guardian:
A ton of locals gathered around Kramatorsk airport to watch the fireworks— Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) April 15, 2014
Witnesses in Kramatorsk saw commandos deploy from helicopters, saw fighter jet firing overhead— Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) April 15, 2014
And more from the airfield:
At the airport here in Kramatorsk. I just saw this guy walking around pic.twitter.com/Bu8n61jbKi— Olaf Koens (@obk) April 15, 2014
Kyiv Post's Christopher J. Miller tweeted these videos which purportedly show jets flying over Kramatorsk. They have not been independently verified:
UPDATE: 4/15/14 10:40 AM ET
Ukrainian forces have launched a 'special operation'
More from Reuters:
Ukrainian armed forces on Tuesday launched a "special operation" against separatists in the town of Kramatorsk in the east of the country, the defense ministry was quoted as saying by Interfax.
Local journalists quoted by Interfax said automatic firing could be heard from the direction of Kramatorsk's military airfield and said a fighter jet had swooped low over the area.
A correspondent of Espresso TV meanwhile said the Ukrainian plane had been trying to land but had not been able to do so because separatists had opened fire on it.
Earlier, pro-Russian militants who had been holed up in the police headquarters since Saturday had quit the building — but a state security official in Kyiv said separatists had then taken over the agency's offices in the town.
A Reuters correspondent in the town reported seeing first a fighter jet over the town and then four military helicopters over the airport.
Two of these landed and when troops stepped out and walked across the field, locals manning a barricade shouted "Shame! Go back home!"
The correspondent, Gabriela Baczynska, said locals with Russian flags had set up barricade of sand and tires outside the gates to the airport. Some of them appeared to be preparing petrol bombs.
UPDATE: 4/15/14 10:30 AM ET
Kyiv Post cited Ukrainian channel Espresso TV's correspondent on the ground who said Ukrainian troops have taken control of Kramatorsk airfield.
Interfax reported armored personnel carriers had stormed the airfield, located between the cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, citing the Ukrainian defense ministry.
This is the chatter from reporters on the ground in or near the area:
Jet fighters over Kramatorsk— Roland Oliphant (@RolandOliphant) April 15, 2014
And combat helicopters circling the airfield— Roland Oliphant (@RolandOliphant) April 15, 2014
Jet fighters over Kramatorsk, near Slavyansk, as Ukraine announces an operation to retake the airfield: https://t.co/mX9MrH4Evb— max seddon (@maxseddon) April 15, 2014
Military helicopters are hovering over the airport in Kramatorsk— Olaf Koens (@obk) April 15, 2014
The general here says the Russians don't play by the rules. 'It's time we fight back' pic.twitter.com/RtWjZsu1JF— Olaf Koens (@obk) April 15, 2014
UPDATE: 4/15/14 10:00 AM ET
This is what it looks like in Slovyansk
From Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk, who is in eastern Ukraine:
The situation in Slovyansk, seized by pro-Russia activists last weekend, remains tense.
Local media reports indicate that Ukrainian military troops are posted along a road leading from Kharkiv to Slovyansk, in the city of Izyum, about 25 miles to the north.
Pro-Russia rebels spent Tuesday afternoon reinforcing barricades inside the city council building, where they removed Ukraine's national coat of arms — the trident — from the building's facade.
Heavily armed and masked troops, who claim they're locals, stand guard in front of the hulking Soviet-era structure.
Seems the armed heavies have momentarily slipped away from Slovyansk city council -- but new sandbag walls up. pic.twitter.com/SYJcUxxkwp— Dan Peleschuk (@dpeleschuk) April 15, 2014
Meanwhile, around 150 locals are milling nearby, in front of the barricade that's blocking off the local police headquarters.
There, the crowd — made up mostly of pensioners and young women — break out sporadically into chants of 'federalization' and 'Good job,' aimed at the ragtag group of crudely armed and outfitted self-defense forces manning the barricades.
UPDATE: 4/15/14 8:30 AM ET
An 'anti-terrorist operation' begins
Ukraine's acting President Oleksander Turchynov told parliament, "Russia had and continues to have brutal plans" for his country.
"They want to set fire not only to the Donetsk region but to the entire south and east — from Kharkiv to the Odessa region," he said, according to Agence France-Presse.
He also told parliament that an "anti-terrorist operation" had begun in the north of the Donetsk region on Tuesday morning, as per the BBC. He said it was being conducted "stage by stage, in a responsible and weighed manner."
The BBC's Daniel Sandford tweeted this from Kharkiv, another region in eastern Ukraine that has seen separatist unrest:
Ukrainian forces now. Kharkiv region 40km from Sloviansk pic.twitter.com/2lLvR671H3— Daniel Sandford (@BBCDanielS) April 15, 2014
Ukrainians have half a dozen APCs and a few buses set up at a checkpoint near Izyum, 25 minutes from Slavyansk— max seddon (@maxseddon) April 15, 2014
Interior ministry guys won't say whether the APCs belong to the army, MVD, or the national guard, but they look serious— max seddon (@maxseddon) April 15, 2014
GlobalPost Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk is in Slovyansk, in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region.
Slovyansk's barricade men. Look familiar? pic.twitter.com/NOEqv9QyEI— Dan Peleschuk (@dpeleschuk) April 15, 2014
Heavily armed dudes in camo roaming central Slovyansk, NBD pic.twitter.com/O4bkciBi7U— Dan Peleschuk (@dpeleschuk) April 15, 2014
UPDATE: 4/15/14 7:00 AM ET
Obama and Putin talk
President Barack Obama talked to President Vladimir Putin on Monday, after Moscow requested a phone call.
According to a statement from the White House, Obama "emphasized that all irregular forces in the country need to lay down their arms, and he urged President Putin to use his influence with these armed, pro-Russian groups to convince them to depart the buildings they have seized."
Putin rejected insinuations of Russian involvement, calling the reports "unreliable," according to the BBC.
The Kremlin said the unrest in eastern Ukraine was "the result of the unwillingness and inability of the leadership in Kyiv to take into account the interests of Russia and the Russian-speaking population."
Putin, for his part, urged Obama to "use the resources at the disposal of the American side" to prevent any further violence.
US officials are worried about separatists in eastern Ukraine following the "playbook" of Crimea, which voted in a referendum to secede from Ukraine and join Russia last month after a period of protests and unrest.
More sanctions against Russia are expected from both the United States and the European Union.
UPDATE: 4/14/14 5:00 PM ET
UPDATE: 4/14/14 4:50 PM ET
Unrest in Kyiv
Heated arguments in front of Rada on live @HromadskeTV Protesters demand call for full military mobilization— Myroslava Petsa (@myroslavapetsa) April 14, 2014
For #Ukraine's fledgling government, this seems to be a damned if they do, damned if they don't situation. Either way unrest will persist.— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) April 14, 2014
UPDATE: 4/14/14 4:05 PM ET
White House: Yes, the CIA's director is in Ukraine. No, we're not thinking of arming Ukraine.
Reuters — The White House on Monday warned that Russia would face more "costs" for its interventions in Ukraine and confirmed that the director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, was in Kyiv over the weekend.
"We don't normally comment on the CIA director's travel but given the extraordinary circumstances in this case and the false claims being leveled by the Russians at the CIA we can confirm that the director was in Kyiv as part of a trip to Europe," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
According to media reports, Russia has urged Washington to explain what Brennan was doing in Ukraine.
"Senior level visits of intelligence officials are a standard means of fostering mutually beneficial security cooperation including US-Russian intelligence collaboration going back to the beginnings of the post-Cold War era," Carney said.
"US and Russian intelligence officials have met over the years. To imply that US officials meeting with their counterparts is anything other than in the same spirit is absurd," he said.
Carney also said President Barack Obama would speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin soon, perhaps later in the day, and made clear the United States was not considering lethal aid for Ukraine.
"We are looking at a variety of ways to demonstrate our strong support for Ukraine including diplomatically and economically," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
"We're not actively considering lethal aid but we are reviewing the kinds of assistance we can provide," he said.
UPDATE: 4/14/14 3:50 PM ET
Sound and fury at the EU
And Senior Correspondent Paul Ames weighs in on the goings on at the EU:
It's hard to see Monday's decision by EU foreign ministers making Vladimir Putin quake in his marching boots.
One after another, the ministers emerged from their day of talks in Luxembourg asserting that they had reached a "strong" and "clear" position.
However, beyond the usual declarations, the only concrete action the EU took against Russia's latest drive to destabilize Ukraine was to expand the list of Russian officials who will have their assets in Europe frozen, and be banned from entering the EU.
No names were mentioned, nor did the EU statement indicate how many Russian officials would be added. "At this stage, we are putting together such a list," said EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton.
Russia laughed off such measures when the EU placed 33 mostly low level Russians and Ukrainians on such a blacklist last month.
The reality is that beyond the declarations of unity and threats to impose real economic sanctions, the EU countries are divided between those — like the Netherlands and Bulgaria — who are wary of a wider confrontation with Russia, and others such as Poland, Lithuania and Sweden who want a tougher line.
Lithuania's Foreign Minister Linas Linkevivius suggested EU sanctions could hit Russia's financial sector and arms industry. His Swedish counterpart Carl Bildt said Thursday's meeting in Geneva between foreign ministers from the EU, US, Russia and Ukraine could be instrumental in deciding if economic sanctions will be launched.
The EU's headquarters is drawing up a list of possible targets for sanctions, which could be sent to capitals this week, but it is by no means certain that anything short of a full scale invasion by Russian forces would convince all 28 EU nations to act.
UPDATE: 4/14/14 3:15 PM ET
Separatists in Donetsk want to control everything from the railways to the sewers
Reuters — Pro-Russian separatists occupying the regional government building in Ukraine's eastern city of Donetsk vowed on Monday to fan out and take control of strategic infrastructure across the province they have declared an independent "people's republic."
Defying an ultimatum from Kyiv to surrender, some two dozen separatist leaders gathered for a strategy meeting in a dark top-floor room of the 11-storey building they have held for eight days.
"Everything from city cleaning to the sewage system, the airport, railway stations, military ... should all be under your control," Vladimir Makovich, one of the senior separatist leaders, told the group.
Donetsk, a province with 4.3 million people — 10 percent of Ukraine's population — and much of its heavy industry, is the biggest prize of the eastern regions where pro-Russian separatists have captured government buildings in the past week.
Kyiv has threatened military action against separatists and accuses Moscow of organizing the unrest its mainly Russian-speaking provinces to repeat the scenario in Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula Russian forces seized and annexed last month.
Makovich said public officials who wished to continue their work must switch allegiance.
"Not a single serious decision can be made without you," said Makovich, who wore a beard and denim jacket.
Not all of the rag-tag civilian militia of mostly masked men holding the building in Donetsk agree precisely on their demands, with some calling for broader autonomy within Ukraine and others wanting to join Russia right away.
But — clad in mismatched protective gear and armed with hunting rifles, knives, batons and steel rods — they are united in their disdain for Kiev and determination to stand their ground.
"One thing is clear, there will be no May 25 presidential elections for us," Denis Pushilin, the self-styled head of the "Donetsk People's Republic," declared, referring to plans for a vote Kyiv hopes will finally restore normalcy to the country after months of unrest._________________________________________________________________________________
GlobalPost's Ronny Roman Rozenberg was in Donetsk last week and captured these images of the pro-Russian separatists occupying a regional administration building.
UPDATE: 4/14/14 2:15 PM ET
Photojournalist Maxim Dondyuk captured some arresting scenes in the Ukrainian city of Slovyansk:
UPDATE: 4/14/14 2:00 PM ET
All quiet in eastern Ukraine’s largest city — for now
From Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk:
Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine’s largest city, settled into an uneasy calm on Monday, a day after around 50 people were injured during vicious clashes between pro-Ukraine and pro-Russia protesters.
The vast majority occurred after the pro-Russia activists allegedly chased down their counterparts following opposing rallies downtown and beat them, local media reported.
Amateur photos from the scene showed bloodied pro-Ukraine protesters huddled near the entrance to the subway after having allegedly been followed by pro-Russian activists, who some witnesses said were armed with crude weapons.
Around 10 people were reported hospitalized, and two nearby subway stations were closed over the incident.
ATN, a local television network, called it “Bloody Palm Sunday.”
Pro-Russia protesters had also reportedly attempted to storm the city council building.
Ivan Varchenko, a regional council deputy and a member of its human rights committee, says separatist sentiments in Kharkiv are less intense than in the neighboring Donetsk Region, where several cities have come under attack in recent days by mysterious, armed fighters.
But he added that the local police –– whom pro-Ukraine activists accuse of inaction after failing to stem violence during other recent protests –– are “demoralized” and unwilling to step in.
“In reality, much of the police force we have in Ukraine today was oriented toward several specific activities: to defend [ousted President Viktor] Yanukovych's ‘family’ and to protect oligarchs’ businesses,” said Varchenko, a member of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland Party.
“And they understood that they were perfectly suited to that –– to pressure local businessmen into paying bribes, for instance –– but now, when they need to be fighting bandits, they’re showing their inability,” he added.
That raises concerns about the safety of future pro-Ukraine protests here in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, which has traditionally been known as a cultural and intellectual hub.
Although there have been several other attempts in recent weeks to storm local administration buildings, separatist sentiments have apparently not yet reached fever pitch.
UPDATE: 4/14/14 1:50 PM ET
Russia's denials don't have one shred of credibility, says UK
Reuters — Ukraine dominated Monday's talks among EU foreign ministers after Kyiv threatened military action against pro-Russian separatists occupying government buildings in the east.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, arriving for the meeting in Luxembourg, said there could be no doubt that Moscow was behind the destabilization of eastern Ukraine.
"I don't think denials of Russian involvement have a shred of credibility," Hague told reporters, adding that the EU now needed to discuss adding more people to a list of 33 Russian and Ukrainian officials targeted by EU asset freezes and travel bans over the Ukraine crisis.
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said the EU must now agree how the list could be expanded.
"The EU has to make it clear to Russia what are the consequences of any possible future actions in eastern Ukraine," he said. "I expect a very specific signal when we can expect sanctions if Russia takes further steps."
But other governments were more cautious on sanctions, underscoring concerns in parts of Europe about antagonizing a power with an energy stranglehold over the bloc, and put their faith in Thursday's talks.
Germany said the Geneva meeting could help calm tensions even though the option of sanctions remained on the table.
In addition to widening asset freezes and visa bans, the EU is discussing possible more far-reaching measures, such as restrictions on trade and finance with Russia, which Hague said should be prepared quickly.
UPDATE: 4/14/14 1:30 PM ET
Could Russia be headed for more sanctions?
France's foreign minister said the European Union could hold an emergency summit as soon as next week to impose further sanctions against Russia, according to Reuters.
Several foreign ministers are meeting in Luxembourg and threatened Russia with new sanctions over its involvement in Ukraine.
As Reuters reported:
France's Laurent Fabius said he hoped "fundamental questions" about Ukraine would be tackled at Thursday's meeting involving Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the EU.
"If it is necessary, there may be a meeting of heads of state and government next week at European level, which may adopt new sanctions," he told reporters.
"The goal is to show firmness while keeping a dialogue open," he said.
Here is a helpful list of all the current sanctions in place against Russia, from both Europe and the United States.
UPDATE: 4/14/14 1:05 PM ET
US signs $1 billion loan guarantee for Ukraine
Reuters — The United States on Monday signed a $1 billion loan guarantee for Ukraine, part of an aid package aimed at supporting the country's economic recovery.
"The Ukrainian people have demonstrated tremendous courage as they have charted an independent course for their country and demanded a government that truly reflects the will of the people," US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a statement._________________________________________________________________________________
Meanwhile, the European Union's Foreign Affairs Council approved a loan of $1.38 billion and $848 million in micro-finance aid for Ukraine, according to the Kyiv Post.
All together, Ukraine is set to receive $3.23 billion.
UPDATE: 4/14/14 12:50 PM ET
Those two ominous words: Civil war
Moscow's envoy to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe warned on Monday that any use of force against pro-Russian protesters in eastern Ukraine could spark a civil war.
"The (Ukrainian) acting minister of the interior has said that armed forces will be used against those who are in the manifestations and also there are units being organized of paramilitary people who will be given weapons and who will be under command of the officers," Andrey Kelin told reporters, according to Reuters. "It will be, as we heard, nearly 12,000 of these people. This is dangerous."
"In Moscow we strongly believe it might lead to a civil war. We are very worried," Kelin told an OSCE Permanent Council meeting.
It's not the first time those words have cropped up in the past 24 hours.
Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said on Sunday that Ukraine "found itself in a new situation... and [has] begun to enter into civil war."
UPDATE: 4/14/14 12:30 PM ET
Pentagon condemns Russian aircraft's close-range pass with US warship
A response from the United States, reported by Reuters:
A Russian fighter aircraft made repeated low-altitude, close-range passes near a US ship in the Black Sea over the weekend, the Pentagon said on Monday, condemning the action at a time of heightened US-Russian tensions over Ukraine.
"This provocative and unprofessional Russian action is inconsistent with their national protocols and previous agreements on the professional interaction between our militaries," said Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.
Warren said a Russian Su-24 aircraft, or Fencer, made 12 passes at low altitude near the USS Donald Cook, a destroyer that has been in the Black Sea since April 10. It appeared to be unarmed, he said.
At the time the passes took place, Warren said, the US ship was conducting a patrol in international waters in the western Black Sea. It is now in a Romanian port.
UPDATE: 4/14/14 12:20 PM ET
A 'people's mayor'
The Kyiv Post reported that a representative for self-defense forces in the town of Horlivka was elected as a "people's mayor" in the Donetsk region. The move followed pro-Russian separatists storming the town's police headquarters earlier this morning.
A posting on the city's website, Horlivka Mosaic, claimed that the "deposed" mayor supported the formation of self-defense forces under Alexander Sapunov, now the people's mayor.
There are some scenes from Horlivka this morning:
UPDATE: 4/14/14 12:05 PM ET
The US is considering sending arms to Ukraine
The United States is considering supplying arms to Ukraine, where unrest in eastern cities bears the hallmarks of a Russian destabilization drive, an adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday.
Ukraine's president on Monday threatened military action after pro-Russian separatists occupying government buildings in the east ignored an ultimatum to leave and another group of rebels attacked a police headquarters in the troubled region.
Asked during a trip to Berlin whether the United States could arm Ukrainian forces, senior diplomat Thomas Shannon said: "Obviously we are looking at that as an option ... but at this point I can't anticipate whether or not we are going to do that."
Republican Sen. John McCain has suggested providing weapons to the Ukraine government, which says the occupations that began on Sunday are part of a Russian-led plan to dismember the country.
"From our point of view what we are seeing in a series of cities mimics what we saw in Crimea both in terms of the tactics and in terms of the people involved," said Shannon, who holds the title of counselor.
"From our point of view there is a very obvious Russian hand in all of this and we consider these actions to be destabilizing and dangerous."
UPDATE: 4/14/14 11:50 AM ET
A close encounter with a warship
The Associated Press reported: "A U.S. military official says a Russian fighter jet made multiple, close-range passes near an American warship in the Black Sea for more than 90 minutes Saturday amid escalating tensions in the region."
The Black Sea is right below Ukraine, as can be seen in this map marked with places of unrest:
Russia's Black Sea Fleet has a base in Sevastopol, Crimea — a region which until recently belonged to Ukraine. Crimea held a referendum in March to secede from Ukraine and join Russia — a move that was widely criticized and not recognized by the international community.
Find the full report from the AP here.
UPDATE: 4/14/14 11:40 AM ET
Ukraine asks UN to send peacekeepers to the east
Acting President Oleksander Turchynov called on the United Nations to deploy peacekeepers to eastern Ukraine to help de-escalate the situation.
According to the Kyiv Post, Turchynov spoke to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, suggesting that UN peacekeepers could aid Ukrainian security forces with "anti-terrorist operations."
The Kyiv Post pointed out that such a deployment would need approval from the UN Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent member.
Russia's UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, called Ukraine's ultimatum to separatists in the east a "criminal use of force" during an emergency Security Council meeting on Sunday.
"The authorities (in Ukraine) do not want to listen to those who do not accept the imposed dominance in Kyiv of national radicals and chauvinists, Russophobic, anti-Semitic forces," Churkin said, according to Reuters.
"The grotesque Russophobia and embedded hatred has become the norm in the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) as well," he added.
UPDATE: 4/14/14 11:15 AM ET
Putin, please help
Separatists in eastern Ukraine appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to help defend them against Ukrainian government forces. A separatist leader speaking at the occupied headquarters of Slaviansk's city administration asked the Russian leader "to personally direct your attention to the unfolding situation and help us as much as you can," according to Reuters.
The town is expected to be the target of an "anti-terrorist operation" launched by the Kyiv government, though there are no reports yet of Ukrainian forces there.
UPDATE: 4/14/14 10:30 AM ET
'This will not be another Crimea'
While acting President Turchynov said that Kyiv's leadership was "not against" a nationwide referendum being held on what type of state Ukraine should be, he told the nation, "We will not allow Russia to repeat the Crimean scenario in the east of Ukraine," during a televised address on Sunday.
"Blood has been spilt in a war that is being waged against Ukraine by Russia," he said. "The national security and defense council has decided to launch a full-scale anti-terrorist operation involving the armed forces of Ukraine."
Meanwhile, Russia's foreign ministry denied any role in the unrest in eastern Ukraine and accused Kyiv of "waging war against their own people."
This was the scene in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk, where local media reported at least four people were killed in clashes:
UPDATE: 4/14/14 9:45 AM ET
An ultimatum ignored
Ukraine's president on Monday threatened military action after pro-Russian separatists occupying government buildings in the east ignored an ultimatum to leave and another group of rebels attacked police headquarters in the troubled region.
Acting President Oleksander Turchynov also held out the possibility of a referendum on the future shape of the Ukrainian state, partly addressing demands made in the largely Russian-speaking east for more control over their local affairs.
As the 9 a.m. deadline issued by authorities in Kyiv expired, a Reuters reporter in the flashpoint city of Slaviansk, where armed men had seized two government buildings, saw nothing to show the rebels were obeying the ultimatum.
At least 100 pro-Russian separatists attacked the police headquarters in the city of Horlivka on Monday, a witness told Reuters, and video footage on Ukrainian television showed an ambulance treating people apparently injured in the attack.
In all, separatists have seized government buildings and security facilities in 10 cities.