Unrest in ukraine: putin reserves the right to military action

While the crisis summit on the crisis in Ukraine has begun in Geneva, the situation in the east of the country continues to escalate. The EU threatens Moscow with tougher sanctions.

Blocked by separatists: Ukrainian soldier in a tank near Kramatorsk. Photo: ap

The European Union plans to tighten its sanctions against Russia if no progress is made at talks on the Ukraine conflict in Geneva, according to French sources. This was announced by French President Francois Hollande in Paris on Thursday. An international crisis meeting had begun in Geneva, Switzerland, in the morning to explore chances for a political solution to the conflict. Later in the day, the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton plans to hold joint consultations with the foreign ministers of the United States, Russia and Ukraine. However, the situation remains tense in southern and eastern Ukraine.

In a TV interview, Russian President Vladimir Putin called it "another serious crime" by the Ukrainian leadership in Kiev to send armed units to the east of the country. But he also stressed that the meeting of foreign ministers in Geneva was very important.

Once again, Putin rejected accusations from Kiev that Russia had sent special forces to eastern Ukraine and called on the Ukrainian interim government to engage in "genuine dialogue" with the Russian-speaking population. Putin also spoke of a right to deploy military forces in eastern Ukraine. He said, however, that he hoped not to have to make use of this right. However, he also admitted for the first time that Russian soldiers were on the ground during the disputed referendum on Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in mid-March. Until now, Moscow had denied sending the soldiers.

Three pro-Russian separatists were killed in a shootout at a Ukrainian National Guard base in the city of Mariupol, according to the Interior Ministry. In addition, 13 were wounded and 63 were detained, Minister Arsen Avakov announced via Facebook on Thursday. Some 300 hooded men threw incendiary devices and fired live ammunition, he said. The National Guard, along with special forces and helicopters, repelled the attack, he said. The Interfax agency had earlier reported four fatalities, citing a regional website.

Gunfire was also reported from Slavyansk and Kramatorsk some 80 kilometers north of Ukraine’s regional capital, Donetsk. Prorussian forces said they had arrested 17 members of government forces in Slavyansk after shooting at peaceful citizens. In Kramatorsk, several people were injured when the National Guard fired on demonstrators, a spokesman for the pro-Moscow "self-defenders" told the Interfax agency.

In the Donetsk region in the east of the country, government troops with 15 armored vehicles withdrew after being blocked by pro-Russian gunmen and residents. The unit will be moved back to Dnepropetrovsk, the Defense Ministry in Kiev announced. It was supposed to be using an "anti-terrorist" approach against separatists occupying state buildings in several Donetsk Oblast towns.

Possible new sanctions

The top-level meeting in Geneva is expected to help pave the way for a political solution to the crisis. According to diplomats, the Ukrainian delegation has prepared proposals for greater consideration of the wishes of ethnic Russians in the east of the country. At the same time, it wants to present evidence of Moscow’s involvement in armed actions by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and demand an end to these attacks, delegation sources said.

In the event of a failure of the Geneva negotiations, the U.S. plans to set a course for a significant tightening of sanctions against Russia, according to its administration spokesman Jay Carney. "We are actively preparing new sanctions," he said, according to a statement from the U.S. Geneva mission. But it was hoped that Moscow would now demonstrate a willingness to de-escalate.

In Kiev, interim President Alexander Turchinov threatened any soldiers who handed over their weapons to the separatists with a military tribunal. A paratrooper unit that had bowed to pressure from pro-Russian activists in the Donetsk region would be disbanded, Turchinov said.