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Pro-Russia Militant Rejects Ukraine Pact

The leader of a group of pro-Russia separatists, Denis Pushilin, said he would ignore the diplomatic pact between Russia and Ukraine to de-escalate the crisis.

Credit Sergei Grits/Associated Press

 

KIEV, Ukraine — An American-backed deal to settle the crisis in eastern Ukraine fell flat on Friday as pro-Russian militants vowed to stay in occupied government buildings, dashing hopes of a swift end to an insurgency that the authorities in Kiev portray as a Kremlin-orchestrated effort to put Ukraine’s industrial heartland under Russian control.

But the agreement, reached in Geneva on Thursday by diplomats from the European Union, Russia, Ukraine and the United States, appeared to arrest, at least temporarily, the momentum of separatist unrest in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking east. Armed pro-Russian militants, who have seized buildings in at least 10 towns and cities since Feb. 6, paused their efforts to purge all central government authority from the populous Donetsk region.

It was clear all along that for the pact to have a chance of success, the Kremlin would have to pressure the militants to leave the buildings they had seized. So far, it has shown no inclination to do so, blaming the Ukrainian government for the turmoil and denying that Russia has any ties to the rebels.

With militants vowing to ignore the agreement but halting what had been a daily expansion of territory under their control, officials in Kiev, the capital, voiced some hope that a settlement was still possible. They were skeptical, however, about Russia’s willingness to push the separatists to disarm and vacate occupied buildings.

“If Russia is responsible before not just Ukraine but the world community, it should prove it,” said Andrii Deshchytsia, the acting Ukrainian foreign minister, who took part in the Geneva talks.

Western officials said the United States planned to reassure Eastern European members of NATO by conducting company-size — about 150 soldiers — ground force exercises in Estonia and Poland. The exercises would last a couple of weeks and would most likely be followed by other troop rotations in the region.

In a sign of the chasm separating Russian and Ukrainian views, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Friday that made no mention of the pro-Russian militants driving the unrest. It said the call for militants to disarm “meant in the first place” the disarming of Ukrainian nationalist groups hostile to Russia, like Right Sector “and other pro-fascist groups which took part in the February coup in Kiev.”

The state-run Russian television channel, Rossiya, reporting from an occupied building in Horlivka in the Donetsk region, featured a masked gunman who pledged to “fight to the end for his convictions.” He displayed an armband emblazoned with a swastika-like symbol, which he said had been seized from supporters of the Ukrainian government.

Doubts about the Kremlin’s readiness to push pro-Russian militants to surrender their guns have been strengthened by its insistence that it has no hand in or control over the separatist unrest, which Washington and Kiev believe is the result of a covert Russian operation involving, in some places, the direct action of special forces.

“I don’t know Russia’s intentions,” Mr. Deshchytsia said, noting that during the negotiations, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, had repeatedly asserted “that Russia was not involved.” He said Mr. Lavrov had been “cooperative and aggressive at the same time.”

 Russia’s denials have stirred concerns that it went along with the agreement not to curb the turmoil in eastern Ukraine, but to blunt American and European calls for tougher sanctions that could severely damage Russia’s already sickly economy. Western sanctions have so far been limited to a travel ban and asset freeze on a few dozen individuals and a Russian bank.

Secretary of State John Kerry called Mr. Lavrov on Friday and urged Russia to ensure “full and immediate compliance” with the agreement, a senior State Department official said. Mr. Kerry, the official added, “made clear that the next few days would be a pivotal period for all sides to implement the statement’s provisions, particularly that all illegal armed groups must be disarmed and all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners.”

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In Ukraine, Pro-Russia Radicals Reject Call To Leave Occupied Buildings

By RFE/RL
Pro-Russia radicals occupying official buildings in eastern Ukraine say they will only leave if the pro-Western government in Kyiv resigns.

Denis Pushilin, the self-declared leader of the radicals in Donetsk, told reporters on April 18 that he did not consider his men bound by a compromise agreement between Russia and Ukraine to disarm and vacate occupied buildings.

The agreement was reached at four-party talks on April 17 in Geneva also involving the United States and the European Union.

Pushilin said the government in Kyiv was illegitimate and also must vacate public buildings that he said it was occupying illegally.

Local media reports on April 18 said none of the government buildings seized across eastern Ukraine had yet been vacated.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told parliament on April 18 that the government had drafted a law that would offer an amnesty to insurgents who would lay down their arms and leave the occupied buildings.

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EU spy chief rules out Russian military presence in Ukraine

Published time: April 16, 2014 13:27
Pro-Russia protesters gather in front of a barricade outside a regional government building in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine April 11, 2014. (Reuters/Gleb Garanich)

Pro-Russia protesters gather in front of a barricade outside a regional government building in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine April 11, 2014. (Reuters/Gleb Garanich)

There is no large Russian military presence in East Ukraine, head of EU intelligence, Commodore Georgij Alafuzoff, has said. The spy chief has dismissed multiple accusations from the West alleging Russian involvement in the unrest in the region.

In an interview with Finnish national news broadcaster, Yle, Alafuzoff said the Russian military had nothing to do with the seizing of government buildings in eastern Ukraine.

“In my opinion, it’s mostly people who live in the region who are not satisfied with the current state of affairs,” said Alafuzoff, referring to the situation in East Ukraine. He went on to say that the people are worried for the welfare of those who speak Russian as their first language in the region.

Alafuzoff echoed the words of the Russian government which has categorically denied interfering in the ongoing unrest. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a press conference on Monday that Moscow is not interested in destabilizing Ukraine and wants the country to remain united.

Anti-Kiev activists in the southeast of Ukraine have seized local government buildings as a mark of protest against the coup-appointed Ukrainian government. In response to the unrest, Ukraine’s interim President Aleksandr Turchinov announced the beginning of an “anti-terrorist” operation in eastern Ukraine.

 

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Dozens of Ukrainian troops surrender APCs in Slavyansk, refuse to ‘shoot at own people’ (PHOTO, VIDEO)

Published time: April 16, 2014 14:21
Edited time: April 16, 2014 20:18

Men wearing military fatigues sit by a Russian flag and a white flag reading "People's volunteer corps of Donetsk" as they ride on an armoured personnel carrier (APC) in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on April 16, 2014. (AFP Photo)

Men wearing military fatigues sit by a Russian flag and a white flag reading “People’s volunteer corps of Donetsk” as they ride on an armoured personnel carrier (APC) in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on April 16, 2014. (AFP Photo)

Dozens of army troops sent to the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk for an “anti-terrorist operation” refused to follow orders and surrendered their weapons and armored vehicles. Some troops openly voiced support for the eastern Ukrainians.

Follow RT’s LIVE UPDATES on military operation in eastern Ukraine

According to Interfax, citing local self-defense activists, some 300 Ukrainian troops agreed to lay down their weapons and “go home” following negotiations in Slavyansk.

“We managed to negotiate with them. About 300 military – only some of those who closed around the city – decided to lay down their arms and go home,” a self-defense activist was quoted as saying.

Reports from the scene said that the locals would not allow the soldiers to take back the APCs, but they were allowed to keep their rifles. The people were cheering the troops.

Meanwhile, the anti-government activists guarding the armored vehicles have said that they did not “seize” them as the media claimed, and that the troops “switched sides” peacefully.

“They were not seized by the self-defense forces. In fact, the Ukrainian troops arrived here flying a Russian flag. In this way, they have taken the side of the people,” a Slavyansk activist told Russia-24 TV.

 

Photos from the scene now show women and children climbing onto the APCs and taking photos with the armed men in camouflage with St. George ribbons.

A Ukrainian soldier interviewed by RIA Novosti in Slavyansk said the troops were told they are being sent against “Russian invaders who have taken the local population hostage and are waging war at us,” and that they must “free Donbas from occupants.”

“This morning, we started our attack, but the picture we saw in Kramatorsk turned out to be completely different. We saw in front of us a crowd of locals, mostly adults, women and men. They explained to us that there are no occupants here and there is no one to fight. Instead, they gave us food and talked to us,” the soldier was quoted as saying.

He added that the troops vowed “not to follow orders to shoot at these people.” Some soldiers chose to take the side of the locals, some decided to stay “neutral.” They are now “waiting what comes next.”

Photo from Twitter/@oivshina

Photo from Twitter/@oivshina

Similar developments were also seen in another Donetsk region city, Kramatorsk, where Ukrainian troops began entering Tuesday after taking a nearby airfield by force, captured a day earlier by armed self-defense activists.

As Ukrainian armored vehicles rolled into the city’s center Wednesday, they were surrounded by locals and surrendered. Some of the APCs were filmed flying Russian flags in support of the locals. Kiev eventually confirmed that six APCs were taken away in Kramatorsk but claimed that they were “captured by the extremists.” Earlier, coup-imposed Kiev officials dismissed the news as “fake” and even claimed that by raising Russian flags the troops “infiltrated” the areas “controlled by Russian Army units and separatists.”

In the village of Pchyolkino, south of Kramatorsk, locals blocked part of a large convoy of armored vehicles. The people are demanding that the troops turn back their vehicles and leave for Dnepropetrovsk, where they are stationed.

 

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Local residents trying to block troops on APCs in the same region were filmed showing bullets that they say were fired by the Ukrainian military as warning shots but in the direction of the people. At least one person was injured by such warning shots, according to reports.

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Witnesses:  Fighter jet was shot down Over Kramatorsk Airport

 

© Reuters/Michael Počuev
April 15, 18:31 UTC +4

Troops land in terminal area

 

Kyiv, April 15. /ITAR-TASS/.  Fighter  shot down over Kramatorsk Airport .  Reported by eyewitnesses on the scene.
In particular, they report that four fighter jets flew over Kramatorskom  , the Su-27, allegedly opened fire over the local airfield. Whose aircraft and who is responsible for  the fighter jet is still unknown. Witnesses noted that  an ambulance arrived on the scene to tend to  victims on the airfield.
Newspaper, News of Kramatorsk”, reports that three  were circling over the airfield.   According to  information,  a group of people had gathered near the aerodrome , some of them in camouflage uniforms, many local residents with  children. According to preliminary data, shooting in the aerodrome area wounded one person.

 

About 500 troops with military equipment  entered  Slavyansk
Witnesses report that troops had landed in the terminal area, there are no  more details available at this time.
The situation in Ukraine. Chronicle of events. 15 April
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Armed Men Seize Police Station in Eastern Ukraine City

Armed men wearing masks and camouflage uniforms guard a police station in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk on Saturday. Credit Anatoliy Stepanov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

DONETSK, Ukraine — Pro-Russian militants attacked police stations and other security facilities in the most populous part of eastern Ukraine on Saturday, in a brush fire of violent unrest that the government in Kiev immediately denounced as Russian “aggression.”

The attacks on the Police Headquarters here and on a police station and a state security branch in Slovyansk about 60 miles away, along with reports of shooting in several other towns, suggested a coordinated campaign to destabilize the Donetsk region, a vitally important industrial and coal-mining area that borders Russia.

A local journalist on the scene said the raid on the police station appeared to be the work of local pro-Russian militants rather than a repeat of the scenario in Crimea, where heavily armed Russian soldiers without markings on their uniforms seized control of airports and other vital installations in late February at the start of a Kremlin-orchestrated campaign to annex the region.

In Donetsk, the regional capital, a group of unarmed pro-Moscow activists tried to storm a prosecutor’s office, but were beaten back by riot police. A few blocks away, several hundred people gathered outside the headquarters of the regional administration to cheer pro-Russian groups that seized the building last Sunday and declared an independent state, the People’s Republic of Donetsk. Ukrainian authorities vowed on Wednesday to end the occupation, by force if necessary, by Friday but later backed away from this threat, hoping that government promises of more local autonomy for Ukraine’s Russian-speaking regions might resolve the standoff.

But there was no sign Saturday of the protesters ending their occupation. Instead, they reinforced their defensive barricades and welcomed several dozen Cossacks in military uniforms to their ranks.

Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr V. Turchynov, called an emergency meeting late Saturday of the country’s national security council to discuss the escalating crisis in the mainly Russian-speaking east of the country. Fears that the government is losing control have been fueled by the militants’ seizing of a large number of weapons over the last week. Some 300 automatic rifles were taken from the Donetsk offices of the state security service after it was briefly taken over by pro-Russian protesters last weekend, and according to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, 400 Makarov handguns and 20 automatic weapons were looted on Saturday from the police station in Slovyansk, which had been seized. “The goal of the takeover was the guns,” the ministry said.

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Pro-Russian Protesters Build Barricades

After seizing a police station in Slovyansk, Ukraine, pro-Russian protesters raised the banner of the People’s Republic of Donetsk and constructed barricades around the station.

Credit Anastasia Vlasova/European Pressphoto Agency

The demands of the pro-Russian activists in eastern Ukraine keep shifting between outright secession and greater autonomy within Ukraine. But calls for unity with Russia now seem to predominate, heightening concerns in the West that Moscow is orchestrating the disorder to create a pretext for an invasion. Russian troops have been massed for weeks near the Ukrainian border.

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New Zealand Herald 

Kiev government to deploy troops in Ukraine’s east

Armed pro-Russian activist stands at a makeshift checkpoint at the entrance into the eastern Ukrainian town of Slovyansk. Photo / AP

Armed pro-Russian activist stands at a makeshift checkpoint at the entrance into the eastern Ukrainian town of Slovyansk. Photo / AP

Turning to force to try to restore its authority in the vital industrial east, Ukraine’s government announced it was sending in troops to try to quash an increasingly brazen pro-Russian insurgency, despite repeated warnings from the Kremlin.

Accusing Moscow of fomenting the unrest, Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov said in a televised address that such a “large-scale anti-terrorist operation” would ensure Russia did not “repeat the Crimean scenario in Ukraine’s east.” Turchynov pledged to offer amnesty to anyone surrendering their weapons by Monday morning (local time).

Watch: Ukraine to launch anti-terror operation

Video

Reliance on the military is a response that hints at concerns over the reliability of the police, who have often proven unable or unwilling to repel pro-Russian gunmen and other Moscow loyalists from seizing key state facilities.

With tens of thousands of Russian troops massed along Ukraine’s eastern border, there are fears that Moscow might use unrest in the mainly Russian-speaking region as a pretext for an invasion.

Speaking late Sunday on Russian state television, ousted president Viktor Yanukovych accused the CIA of being behind the new government’s decision to turn to force, a claim the CIA denied as “completely false.”

Yanukovych claimed that CIA director John Brennan met with Ukraine’s new leadership and “in fact sanctioned the use of weapons and provoked bloodshed.”

CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said that while the agency doesn’t comment on Brennan’s travel itinerary, the “claim that director Brennan encouraged Ukrainian authorities to conduct tactical operations inside Ukraine is completely false.”

Ukraine now has “one foot into a civil war,” Yanukovych declared, flanked by his former prosecutor general and interior minister, the two associates most despised by the protesters whose monthslong demonstrations were ignited by Yanukovych’s decision to back away from closer relations with the European Union and turn toward Russia. Yanukovych fled to Russia in February, saying he feared for his life.

Earlier Sunday, Ukrainian special forces exchanged gunfire with a pro-Russia militia outside the eastern city of Slovyansk – the first reported gunbattle in the east, where armed pro-Russian men have seized a number of key government buildings to press their demands for referendums on autonomy and possible annexation by Russia, following the pattern set by the vote in Crimea last month. A Ukrainian security officer was killed and at least two others wounded.

Calling such attacks a “Russian aggression,” Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a Facebook post Sunday that special forces of up to 12,000 people will be drawn from volunteers who will be tasked with resisting attacks from pro-Russian forces in their local areas.

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Ukraine crisis: Helicopter gunships take country closer to all-out war

 Ukrainian troops use helicopters to seize back airport held by pro-Russian militiamen while ground forces gather around separatist stronghold of Slovyansk

Slovyansk

A prolonged and increasingly vicious confrontation in eastern Ukraine has turned into armed conflict as Ukrainian troops used helicopter gunships to seize back an airport that had been held by pro-Russian militiamen.

The attack at Kramatorsk came as ground forces with armour gathered around Slovyansk, which had become a symbolic stronghold for well-armed separatists.

At Kramatorsk, two of the aircraft carried out strafing runs, before two others landed troops. Four people were believed to have been injured, but claims of people killed, some of them civilians, could not be verified.

A stand-off developed afterwards, when protesters unfurled a banner saying “Shame on you! Go back home” and shouting while the soldiers fired in the air. Eight miles away the residents of Slovyansk marched towards their own small airstrip. They were, they stated, doing so to protect it from “fascists and Nazis” being flown in from the west of the country.

The outbreak of fighting raised deep trepidation that Ukraine, which has already lost Crimea to the Kremlin, could be entering into a civil war which may lead to the intervention of Vladimir Putin, who has repeatedly declared that he was prepared to act to protect ethnic Russians across the border.

The Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, warned “Ukraine is on the brink of civil war”, adding that he hoped the Kiev administration had “enough brains” to avoid a catastrophic escalation. He blamed the government in Kiev for creating a situation where people felt they had no choice but to rise up for their rights.

Key installations in 10 cities have now slipped out of the control of Kiev and into the hands of protesters who are demanding a referendum on the future of the country. Repeated ultimatums for the gunmen to surrender have been ignored, severely damaging the credibility of the government.

As evening fell the office of Ukraine’s acting President, Olexander Turchynov, announced that the airfield had been captured in an “anti-terrorist operation”. There were also claims that a number of public buildings in the region had been retaken; but there was no immediate verification of that on the ground.

 

The operation at Kramatorsk appeared to be aimed at providing a landing site for positioning forces on one approach to Slovyansk.

Airborne forces, along with Ministry of Interior police units, were at Kamianka, near Izyum, south east of Kiev, with armoured personnel carriers, light artillery and transport helicopters. Further back, an armoured bulldozer for clearing barricades had been parked near a hotel. General Vasily Krutov, commander of Ukraine’s security service, SBU, was in no doubt about the need for action or the identity of the enemy.

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Russia, West Face Off Over Ukraine at UN

  • A pro-Russian gunman stands guard at a police station that was seized by pro-Russian militants, in the eastern Ukraine town of Slovyansk, April 13, 2014.

    Ukrainian, Pro-Russian Militia Sustain Casualties in Slovyansk Gunfire

Russia came under heavy criticism from world powers at an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council Sunday, as violent clashes flared between pro-Russia separatists and Kyiv government supporters in eastern Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power and British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant accused Russia of orchestrating the violence.

Power said the instability in Ukraine was “completely man-made.” She said it was “written and choreographed” by Russia. Grant called on the Security Council to warn Russia against “further military escalation.”

Russia, which called the meeting, rejected the charges.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called on the international community to demand that those who are in power in Kyiv stop war on their own citizens, referring to a warning by Ukraine’s government that it will use force against pro-Russia activists in the eastern part of Ukraine if they do not disarm.

In a televised speech Sunday, Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, vowed Kyiv will not let Russia take over eastern Ukraine after its annexation of the Crimean peninsula last month.

He said he will grant amnesty to any pro-Russian separatists who lay down their weapons by Monday but vowed to use force against those who don’t.

Turchynov accused Moscow of carrying out a war against Ukraine, once part of its Soviet empire.

“Blood has been shed in a war which the Russian Federation unleashed against Ukraine. The aggressor has not stopped but continues to incite unrest in Ukraine’s east. It’s not a war between Ukrainians; it’s an artificially created confrontation, whose goal is to see Ukraine weakened and destroyed as a country. But in the end it will weaken our enemies. Russia today has drawn condemnation from the entire civilized world,” said Turchynov.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry immediately dismissed Turchynov’s order to launch the operation as “criminal” and called for its immediate review by the U.N. Security Council. A meeting is set for Sunday night.

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Obama, Putin Talk as Separatists Tighten Grip on East Ukraine

Pro-Russia demonstrators on Monday defied a government deadline to vacate occupied buildings in exchange for amnesty, as Ukraine’s interim president threatened a military crackdown.

Dozens of protesters smashed windows of the police headquarters in the eastern Ukrainian city of Horlivka and scuffled with police as they took control of the facility.

Obama, Putin to continue diplomacy

Russian President Vladimir Putin urged U.S. President Barack Obama to discourage the Ukrainian government from using force against protesters.

During a phone conversation Monday with Obama, the Russian leader denied claims of Russian agents’ involvement in the protests as “speculations based on unreliable information.”  Putin said the protests vented public anger about the Ukrainian government’s reluctance to recognize the interests of Russian speakers in the east.

The Kremlin said it had requested the call. The White House said the call was frank and direct.

The White House said Obama urged Russia to use its influence to get separatists in the country to stand down.

“The president 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,” the White House said in a statement.

The two sides agreed to continue efforts to seek diplomatic cooperation in the context of the Ukrainian situation ahead of a four-party meeting (EU, Russia, U.S. and Ukraine) scheduled to take place in Geneva on April 17.

Demanding a referendum

The demonstrators are demanding a referendum on whether to split with Ukraine and join Russia – similar to last month’s vote in Crimea.

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.

Ukrainian leader Oleksandr Turchynov said he is not against a national referendum on what kind of country Ukraine should be.  He said he is certain a majority would support a united and independent Ukraine, possibly giving broader localized rights to the east.  He said such a vote could be held at the same time as the May 25 presidential election.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday he believes Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the eastern part of the country should be part of drafting a new constitution.

CIA visit

 

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“CIVIL WAR HAS BEGUN IN UKRAINE” = headline in major Russian paper this morning. No clarifying context, of course. pic.twitter.com/SGsoCw1ZeW
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RFE/RL

In Eastern Ukraine, The Hunt For A Smoking Gun — And A Real Russian Holding It

Pro-Russian gunmen stand guard outside the mayor's office in Slovyansk, Ukraine, on April 14. Can Kyiv prove some are Russian servicemen?

Pro-Russian gunmen stand guard outside the mayor’s office in Slovyansk, Ukraine, on April 14. Can Kyiv prove some are Russian servicemen?

By Daisy Sindelar
As separatists continue to hold government buildings throughout the Ukrainian east, a desperate search is on to prove that Russian forces are behind the coordinated actions, much as they were in Crimea.

The proof would cement suspicions that Russia, which has maintained a military presence on Ukraine’s eastern border for months, is preparing to further destabilize its already fragile neighbor, if not annex certain portions of it outright.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov continues to insist that Russia has none of its forces inside Ukraine.

But Western officials say they are already convinced of Russian involvement. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said the weekend instability that swept through cities like Slovyansk, Mariupol, and Kramatorsk “was choreographed in and by Russia.”

Ukrainian officials, too, have offered evidence of Russian involvement. In an interview with RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, acting Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya said the armed men seizing government buildings were armed with automatic rifles used by the Russian Army, and not the types of rifles stolen from Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) forces, as many pro-Russian protesters have claimed. (Although he does not offer specific details, Deshchytsya appears to be referring to documented use of Kalashnikov AK-100 rifles, which are not part of the Ukrainian arsenal.)

But it may be Andriy Parubiy, the head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, who holds the true smoking gun. Parubiy, a former lawmaker and Euromaidan protest leader, announced on April 15 that SBU agents had detained officers from the Russian Defense Ministry’s main intelligence wing, the GRU, for involvement in the eastern actions.

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Lavrov denies east Ukraine unrest was conducted by supposed Russian agents

Lavrov denies east Ukraine unrest was conducted by supposed Russian agents

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has denied allegations that the current unrest in southeastern Ukraine is the work of supposed Russian agents. Ukrainian acting Foreign Minister Andrei Deshchytsya called Lavrov on Saturday and, “in the course of the conversation, tried to hold Russia accountable for the aggravation of the situation in the south and southeast of Ukraine,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

A statement recently published by the Russian Foreign Ministry says that there are no reasons to accuse Russia of aggravating of the situation in Ukraine’s southern and southeastern regions.

In response, Sergey Lavrov said that there are no grounds for such claims. He added that the US has already put forward similar accusations against Russia, but failed to give any concrete evidence.

Mr. Lavrov also said that Ukraine’s current authorities should try their best to prevent any acts of violence in Ukraine. The Russian minister also told his Ukrainian counterpart that Ukraine’s government should stop threats to start attacks against protesters who have occupied several buildings in the cities of Donetsk and Lugansk. Ukraine’s authorities should use only peaceful means, Mr. Lavrov said. They should start a dialogue with their opponents in the country’s south and southeast, fulfill their lawful demands and involve the opposition in the formation of Ukraine’s new constitution.

When Andrey Deshitsa asked about the possibility of holding a four-sided meeting between Russia, the US, the EU and Ukraine, Sergey Lavrov answered that preparations for such a meeting are already under way. The details of the agenda, the format and the place of this meeting are still being discussed.

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Creating A Problem 

Inciting A Reaction

Implementing A Manufactured Solution

~Desert Rose~

US considers offering military help to Ukraine – Kerry advisor

Published time: April 14, 2014 18:50

AFP Photo / Dibyangshu Sarkar

AFP Photo / Dibyangshu Sarkar

An advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that the United States may decide to send arms to eastern Ukraine as tensions continue to worsen there between pro-Russian protesters and supporters of the country’s interim government.

Reuters reported on Monday that US State Department Counselor Thomas Shannon — a senior diplomat and member of Sec. Kerry’s inner circle — said the possibility of providing arms to Ukrainian forces is indeed currently on the table.

“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,” Reuters quoted Shannon as saying.

The counselor’s remarks come following yet another intense weekend in Ukraine, where government buildings, a military airport and other facilities in the east of the country were reportedly seized by armed pro-Russian protesters. Weeks after a similar standoff in the adjacent peninsula of Crimea led to the severing of ties with Ukraine and the subsequent approval of a referendum agreeing to join the Russian Federation, critics in the West are questioning whether or not Moscow has been involved in the latest series of events.

“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,” the State Department’s Shannon told Reuters early this week. “From our point of view there is a very obvious Russian hand in all of this and we consider these actions to be destabilising and dangerous.” William Hague, Britain’s foreign ministry, has made similar remarks as well.

Thomas Shannon (AFP Photo / Nelson Almeida)

Thomas Shannon (AFP Photo / Nelson Almeida)

But Vitaly Churkin — Russia’s envoy to the United Nations — has denounced rumors of his country playing any role in the unrest as false, and the Foreign Ministry has called allegations “irresponsible.”

Also on Monday this week, Moscow’s envoy to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said he was worried about the possibility that force would be used against pro-Russian demonstrators in Ukraine, and said he strongly believes “it might lead to a civil war.”

 

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Kerry adviser says arming Ukraine forces is an option

BERLIN Mon Apr 14, 2014 11:30am EDT

(Reuters) – 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 Senator 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.

 

 

 

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US ambassador to Kosovo hired by construction firm he lobbied for

  • The Guardian, Monday 14 April 2014 11.53 EDT
Christopher Dell with Kosovo PM
Christopher Dell with Kosovo PM Hashim Thaci in 2009. Dell took joined Bechtel when he finished his career at the State Department. Photo: Office of the Kosovo PM

A US ambassador to Kosovo, who lobbied for the construction of a $1bn road through the war-torn country, has taken up a post with the American construction giant that secured the lucrative contract.

Christopher Dell, a career diplomat nominated by Barack Obama to represent the US in Pristina, was employed by the Bechtel Corporation, which he helped win a contract to build a highway to neighbouring Albania.

Dell took on a role as an African country manager with Bechtel late last year, months after ending a three-decade career at the State Department.

His employment at Bechtel, America’s largest engineering and construction firm, has ignited a debate over the controversial road-building project, named the “Patriotic Highway”.

Pieter Feith, the senior EU diplomat in Kosovo when the contract was secured, criticised the way the US ambassador pushed through the deal, and has called for an inquiry. Feith accused Dell of withholding information about the Bechtel contract, and lobbying Kosovo to agree to what he describes as an ill-advised deal with a US company, which placed enormous pressure on the fledgling country’s budget.

It is routine for western ambassadors to push the business interests of companies from the countries they come from. But it is unusual for a former diplomat to land a job with a major corporation after using their sway to secure lucrative government contracts.

After he was appointed ambassador in 2009, Dell had huge influence in Kosovo, where the US is widely viewed as a supervising power and is feted for its role in securing independence for the tiny Balkan state. A statue of President Clinton adorns the capital, Pristina, and boulevards are named after George W Bush and other US officials.

As the International Civilian Representative in Kosovo between 2008 and 2012, Feith was the other major figure in the country, entrusted with wide-ranging powers by the US and EU, including the ability to overrule Kosovan officials. For several years, Feith and Dell served side by side, the two most senior foreign officials supervising Kosovo’s campaign for recognition as a sovereign state following the 1999 war.

At the time Dell was encouraging Kosovo’s government to sign the highway contract, Feith said he had grave concerns about awarding the enormous contract to a consortium consisting of Bechtel and its partner, Turkish firm Enka. Feith believed the deal risked undermining Pristina’s finances.

Feith said he clashed with Dell over the logic of an impoverished, nascent country undertaking such a huge infrastructure project, and instead argued that the money should be spent on tackling Kosovo’s unemployment rate, which stood at 40%.

Feith also said he asked to see details of the contract, which he believed was part of his mandate, but was denied access by the US embassy. “Information was withheld, and all of a sudden we were presented with a fait accompli of this contract being concluded and being a liability on the budget,” he told the Guardian.

The Bechtel-Enka deal was signed in April 2010, despite concerns from the IMF, the World Bank, EU diplomats, Feith, and the Kosovan government’s own legal adviser. Dell and the State Department declined requests for comment. Bechtel defended its employment of the former ambassador and said any suggestion that his appointment was improper was “unfair and offensive”.

But Andrea Capussela, who served as head of Feith’s economic department in Kosovo and was a vocal critic of the road-building scheme, said: “Ambassador Dell’s employment at Bechtel raises a rather serious question mark over the whole project.”

“This contract was irrational for Kosovo, and caused considerable damage to it,” he added. “The State Department would do well to investigate this.”

Feith declined to comment on Dell’s employment at Bechtel. However, he did say a wider inquiry into the probity of the highway deal was warranted, although he did not specify which organisation would conduct such an investigation.

“We have been involved in the fight against corruption in Kosovo, and anything that can help, ex-post, to clarify, elucidate or provide transparency about what has happened is beneficial for the future of the young state,” he said. “If there is an investigation, I would welcome it.”

The government in Pristina argues that the Patriotic Highway has connected northern Albania and Kosovo, replacing crumbling mountain roads with a four-lane highway, and will provide an economic injection into the region. However, critics point out that its costs have more than doubled from the original estimate.

The initial offer was to complete the Kosovo section of the highway for $555m (€400m). The price subsequently rose to $916m (€660m), to pay for 102km of road. In the end, the project cost $1.13bn (€820m) for what turned out be only a 77km stretch of highway. By comparison, Kosovo’s total government budget in 2012 was €1.5bn.

 

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Bechtel Delivers Second Stretch of the Kosovo Motorway Ahead of Schedule and Within Budget

Completion Marked With Launch of Motorway Safety Campaign

By Marketwired .  July 13, 2012 02:48 PM EDT

LONDON — (Marketwire) — 07/13/12 — Bechtel and its joint venture partner, Enka, have completed an additional 2.8 miles (4.5 kilometers) of the Kosovo motorway bringing the total distance completed to 26.4 miles (42.5 km). The new section, which opened today, connects to the stretch of motorway delivered in November 2011 which goes from Morinë at the border with Albania to Suhareka. The motorway now extends to the Dule interchange in Northern Kosovo. The latest stretch of motorway was built in less than a year, ahead of schedule and within budget.

“Each day we are getting closer to our dream of achieving the Kosovo motorway, thanks to Bechtel-Enka. The motorway is already making a huge difference to the lives of Kosovans with reduced journey times but people should drive safely too,” said Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi.

To mark the opening of the new motorway section, Bechtel and Enka, together with the Kosovo government, launched a new safety campaign along the Kosovo motorway with the slogan: “Yes to Safety, No to Speed.” The week-long campaign aims to encourage responsible driving on Kosovo’s first motorway and includes postcards and promotional cars along the route displaying the safety message.

“Safety is one of our core values. We hope our motorway safety awareness campaign will make drivers think twice about driving safely and not speeding on the new motorway,” said Mike Adams, president of Bechtel’s civil infrastructure unit.

When complete, the full 63.4-mile (102-km) motorway will extend from Morinë to the north of Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, and will serve as the centerpiece of Kosovo’s national transport system, helping to promote trade and economic development in Kosovo and throughout the region. The motorway is scheduled for completion in 2013.

 

 

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Syrian govt and opposition accuse each other of ‘deadly chlorine attack’

Published time: April 13, 2014 03:35
Edited time: April 13, 2014 11:27

Still from YouTube video/Kafrzita

Still from YouTube video/Kafrzita

Syrian state channels say that Nusra Front radicals are behind a chemical attack that has killed two and injured more than 100 people in a village in central Syria, on Friday. The opposition insists the injuries were caused by government’s bombardment.

State-run Syrian television blamed members of the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front for using chlorine gas in an attack on Syrian village that killed at least two people. It did not say how it confirmed chlorine was used. According to the report the Islamist group had planned two more chemical strikes on civilian targets.

Earlier on Saturday, videos showing a field hospital in Kfar Zeita – about 200 km north of Damascus and on the frontline of intense fighting – were uploaded by opposition activists. The pictures showed obviously weakened civilians, including small children, breathing through oxygen masks, as medical personnel attended to them.

 

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VOA News

FILE - This Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013 citizen journalism file image shows a member of UN investigation team taking samples of sands near a part of a missile that is likely to contain chemicals, according to activists, in Damascus countryside of Ain Terma, Syria.FILE – This Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013 citizen journalism file image shows a member of UN investigation team taking samples of sands near a part of a missile that is likely to contain chemicals, according to activists, in Damascus countryside of Ain Terma, Syria.

The Syrian government, rebel forces and a rights group say poison gas has injured several people in a central village. The government and rebels are blaming each other for the incident.

The Syrian National Coalition and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday that government air raids resulted in dozens of injuries and a gas release on Friday in the village of Kfar Zeita.

State-run Syrian television on Saturday blamed members of the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front for using chlorine gas at Kfar Zeita, which it says killed two people.

 

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SFGate

Poison gas claims complicate Syrian civil war

Updated 2:06 am, Sunday, April 13, 2014

BEIRUT (AP) — Both sides in Syria’s bloody civil war said Saturday that a rural village fell victim to a poison gas attack, an assault that reportedly injured scores of people amid an ongoing international effort to rid the country of chemical weapons.

What exactly happened Friday in Kfar Zeita, a rebel-held village in Hama province some 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of Damascus, remains unclear and likely won’t be known for some time. It took United Nations weapons inspectors months to say it was likely some chemical weapons attacks happened last year, including an August attack that killed hundreds and nearly sparked Western airstrikes against President Bashar Assad‘s forces.

But online videos posted by rebel activists from Kfar Zeita echoed earlier images that sparked a world outcry, showing pale-faced men, women and children gasping for breath at a field hospital. They suggest an affliction by some kind of poison — and yet another clouded incident where both sides blame each other in a conflict that activists say has killed more than 150,000 people with no end in sight.

The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, said the poison gas attack hurt dozens of people, though it did not identify the gas used.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group that relies on a network of on-the-ground volunteers, said the gas attack happened during air raids that left heavy smoke over the area. It reported that people suffered from suffocation and breathing problems after the attack, but gave no further details.

State-run Syrian television blamed members of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front rebel group for the attack, saying they used chlorine gas to kill two people and injure more than 100. It did not say how it confirmed chlorine was used.

Chlorine, one of the most commonly manufactured chemicals in the U.S., is used to purify drinking water. But as a gas, it can be deadly, with the German army using it in warfare in World War I. The Geneva Protocol of 1925, which Syria signed, banned its use in battle.

The TV report also claimed the Nusra Front is preparing for another chemical attack against the Wadi Deif area in the northern province of Idlib, as well as another area in Hama. The government station did not explain how it knew the Nusra Front’s plans.

Activists in the village could not be reached Saturday.

 

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Pro-Russian gunmen seize key buildings in eastern Ukraine

Armed pro-Russian activists in Slavyansk

Armed pro-Russian activists guard a police station in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk. Photograph: Anatoliy Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images

Gunmen have seized a police station and other government buildings in Ukraine‘s eastern industrial heartland amid a tense deadlock in the country’s east, where armed pro-Russian protesters have barricaded themselves inside government buildings and demanded independence from Kiev.

Ukraine’s interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said another group of gunmen tried to storm the Donetsk regional prosecutor’s office but was repelled.

The early morning raid on the police station happened in Slavyansk, a town about 35 miles north of the regional capital, Donetsk. The men collected weapons and distributed them to their supporters. A second group later took the headquarters of the state security service.

“Armed men in camouflage fatigues have taken the police station in Slavyansk,” Avakov wrote on his Facebook page. “Here, our response will be very severe.”

A local police official told Kiev’s private Channel 5 television that the raid was staged by six men who had fired several shots into the air before storming the station. It was not immediately clear how the local police responded or whether the gunmen had taken any hostages.

 

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Voice of America

Ukraine Accuses Russia of ‘Aggression’

Henry Ridgwell

— Ukraine says Saturday’s attacks by pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine are “an act of external aggression” by Russia, and security officials are preparing to implement “an operational response plan.”

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov’s evaluation appeared on Facebook Saturday, shortly after armed militants with Russian weapons seized more government buildings in the Russian-speaking east, including police headquarters in Donetsk and Kramatorsk.

Witnesses, including western journalists, say the Kramatorsk facility was captured after a firefight, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

Armed men stand in front of police headquarters in Slaviansk, April 12, 2014.Armed men stand in front of police headquarters in Slaviansk, April 12, 2014.

The takeover of police facilities in Donetsk prompted the city’s police chief to resign, while elsewhere, Western news accounts late Saturday said militants controlled the eastern city of Sloviansk.

Moscow has repeatedly denied any role in Ukraine’s unrest, which erupted in full two months ago, when anti-Russian protesters in Kyiv forced then-president Viktor Yanukovych to flee the country.

US reaction

Meanwhile, the United States has called on Russia to “cease all efforts” to destabilize Ukraine.  A White House National Security Council spokeswoman said Saturday the United States is concerned that Russian separatists — with apparent support from Moscow — are “inciting violence and sabotage” against the Ukrainian state.

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by telephone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the State Department said.

“During the call Kerry expressed strong concern that attacks today by armed militants in eastern Ukraine were orchestrated and synchronized, similar to previous attacks in eastern Ukraine and Crimea,” said a senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Militants were equipped with specialized Russian weapons and the same uniforms as those worn by the Russian forces that invaded Crimea. The secretary made clear that if Russia did not take steps to de-escalate in eastern Ukraine and move its troops back from Ukraine’s border, there would be additional consequences,” the official added.

The official did not state what those consequences would be.

US officials met Friday with Ukrainian finance officials to discuss a “range of strategic and economic issues” according to a State Department statement.

 

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A resident passed food to a pro-Russian militant at a police station in Slovyansk. Credit Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

SLOVYANSK, Ukraine — The Ukrainian government on Sunday for the first time sent its security services to confront armed pro-Russian militants in the country’s east, defying warnings from Russia. Commandos engaged in gunfights with men who had set up roadblocks and stormed a Ukrainian police station in Slovyansk, and at least one officer was killed, Ukrainian officials said.

Several officers were injured in the operation, as were four locals, the officials said. Russian news media and residents here disputed that account, saying the Ukrainian forces had only briefly engaged one checkpoint.

In either case, the central government in Kiev has turned to force to try to restore its authority in the east, a course of action that the Russian government has repeatedly warned against.

With tens of thousands of Russian troops massed along Ukraine’s eastern border near Donetsk, Western leaders have worried that Moscow might use unrest in Ukraine’s mainly Russian-speaking areas as a pretext for an invasion.

Both governments intensified their statements on Sunday. Ukraine’s interim president, Oleksandr V. Turchynov, issued another ultimatum, saying separatists should vacate occupied buildings by Monday or face a “large-scale antiterrorist operation” that would include the Ukrainian military. And Russia claimed that the Ukrainian government was cracking down at the behest of American and European officials.

Ukraine’s ousted president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, speaking late Sunday in Rostov-on-Don, in Russia, echoed Moscow’s charges of American meddling.

Insisting that he remained Ukraine’s commander in chief despite having fled to Russia more than a month ago, he ordered Ukrainian troops to defy what he called “criminal orders” for a crackdown and said the country stood “on the brink of civil war.”

The police station contested by Ukrainian forces was one of several security centers in the eastern region of Donetsk that were seized on Saturday by masked gunmen in coordinated raids that the Ukrainian authorities denounced as Russian “aggression.”

Photo

Residents gathered as protesters guarded a fortified barricade set up at the entrance. At least one officer was killed when Ukrainian armed forces stormed the station on Sunday, officials said. Credit Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

By Sunday afternoon, the government’s push to reassert its authority in a vitally important industrial and coal-mining region appeared to have made little headway. Pro-Russian protesters appeared to control not only the police station but also the entire town of Slovyansk, having set up checkpoints at major streets leading into town.

The protesters blocked a major highway in the east, and flags of Russia and their newly declared and unrecognized People’s Republic of Donetsk flew over administrative buildings in several other midsize towns. These included Mariupol, where protesters seized a building Sunday.

Roman Svitan, a security adviser to the Ukrainian authorities in Donetsk, said the operation on Sunday was carried out by Alfa, a special services unit of Ukraine’s state security service. He gave an upbeat assessment of its progress, saying Ukrainian forces had evicted gunmen from the Slovyansk Police Headquarters, though protesters there said nothing of the sort had happened.

Mr. Svitan said most of the expelled gunmen were local pro-Russian extremists, but they had also included Russian operatives.

Residents and men standing by barricades in Slovyansk denied that Ukrainian forces had even entered the town on Sunday. They said one local man who had been out fishing was in a hospital with a wound from a shooting on a highway outside town. Russian television and some locals said the Ukrainian nationalist group Right Sector had attacked protesters at a checkpoint, injuring the fisherman.

Requests to speak to a leader of the armed men produced a man wearing a ski mask who introduced himself as Aleksandr and described himself as a deputy commander of the city of Slovyansk after its merger with the People’s Republic of Donetsk.

 

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Voice  Of America

Gunmen Seize Another Building in Ukraine, Gas Payments to Russia Suspended

Pro-Russian militants have extended their takeovers of public buildings in eastern Ukraine.

The regional interior ministry says gunmen have seized a state security building in Slovyansk.

Earlier Saturday, armed men seized a police station in the city. A VOA correspondent in the region says the militants took about 400 weapons from the station.

Meanwhile, pro-Russian protesters continue to occupy government buildings in the regional capital Donetsk and in Luhansk. Kyiv has offered concessions to the protesters and regional leaders, after its Friday deadline passed for separatists to vacate the buildings.

Acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said he supported amending Ukraine’s constitution and changing laws so regional governors are no longer appointed by the central government, and regional referendums are permitted. He also promised no one would be allowed to “limit the Russian language and the right to speak it in Ukraine.”

NATO says there has been a buildup of Russian military forces along the border with Ukraine recently.

 

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