Ukraine peace deal falters, rebels show no sign of surrender

A masked pro-Russian man stand guard near a barricade outside a regional government building in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine April 21, 2014.  Credit: Reuters
A masked pro-Russian man stand guard near a barricade outside a regional government building in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine April 21, 2014.
Credit: Reuters

An agreement to avert wider conflict in Ukraine was faltering on Monday, with pro-Moscow separatist gunmen showing no sign of surrendering government buildings they have seized.

U.S. and European officials say they will hold Moscow responsible and impose new economic sanctions if the separatists do not clear out of government buildings they have occupied across swathes of eastern Ukraine over the past two weeks.

Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Kiev, where he is expected to announce a package of technical assistance. The visit is likely to be more important as a symbol of support than for any specific promises Biden makes in public.

“He will call for urgent implementation of the agreement reached in Geneva last week while also making clear… that there will be mounting costs for Russia if they choose a destabilizing rather than constructive course in the days ahead,” a senior administration official told reporters.

Russia, Ukraine, the European Union and the United States signed off on the agreement in Geneva on Thursday designed to lower tension in the worst confrontation between Russia and the West since the Cold War. The agreement calls for occupied buildings to be vacated under the auspices of envoys from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

But no sooner had the accord been signed than both sides accused the other of breaking it, while the pro-Moscow rebels disavowed the pledge to withdraw from occupied buildings.

An OSCE mediator, Mark Etherington, held his first meeting with the leader of separatists in Slaviansk, a town which rebels have turned into a heavily-fortified redoubt. Etherington said he had asked the pro-Russian self-proclaimed “people’s mayor” of the town, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, whether he would comply with the Geneva agreement, but gave no hint about the response.

Ponomaryov later told a news conference: “We did not negotiate, we talked. We told them our position, what happened here, and they told us about their plans.”

Etherington said he had also asked about people being held in Slaviansk, including the woman who was serving as mayor until the uprising. Her fate has not been made clear.

In other signs the Geneva accord was far from being implemented, activists in Slaviansk brought up trucks laden with sand and were filling sandbags to reinforce their barricades. In nearby Kramatorsk, local media showed masked gunmen taking over the office of the SBU security service in the town, and leading away a civilian identified as the local police chief.

Separatists told Reuters they would not disarm until Right Sector, a Ukrainian nationalist group based in Western Ukraine, did so first.

“Who should surrender weapons first? Let us see Right Sector disarm first, let them make the first step and we will follow,” said Yevgeny Gordik, a member of a separatist militia. “We need dialogue. This is not dialogue. It is monologue.”

Russia says Right Sector members have threatened Russian speakers. Kiev and Western countries say the threat is largely invented by Russian state-run media to justify Moscow’s intervention and cause alarm in Russian speaking areas.

Moscow blames Right Sector for a shooting on Easter Sunday morning, when at least three people were killed at a checkpoint manned by armed separatists. Right Sector denies involvement, while Kiev said Russia provoked the violence.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Monday to help implement the Geneva deal, including by “publicly calling on separatists to vacate illegal buildings and checkpoints”, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

In its account of their telephone conversation, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Lavrov had called on Kerry to “influence Kiev, not let hotheads there provoke a bloody conflict” and to encourage it “to fulfill its obligations unflaggingly”.

One European diplomat said the deal was a way for Russian President Vladimir Putin to buy time and undermine momentum towards tougher sanctions: “Talks and compromises are just part of his tactics,” said the diplomat. “He wants to have Ukraine.”

SOLDIERS FREED

The Slaviansk separatists released around a dozen Ukrainian soldiers in blue uniforms on Monday, without making clear the circumstances under which they had been held. Gordik said armored vehicles that were surrendered by a column of Ukrainian paratroops last week would stay in the town.

Putin announced last month that Moscow has the right to intervene in its neighbors to protect Russian speakers. He then annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

Moscow has since massed tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, and Kiev and its Western allies say Russian agents are directing the uprising in the east, including the “green men” – heavily armed, masked gunmen in unmarked uniforms.

In his latest move, likely to be seen by the West as a further threat to the post-Cold War order, Putin signed a law on Monday making it easier for Russian speakers across the former Soviet Union to obtain Russian citizenship.

Eastern Ukraine is largely Russian-speaking and many residents are suspicious of the pro-European government that took power in Kiev in February when Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovich fled the country after mass protests.

Separatists have declared an independent “People’s Republic of Donetsk” in the east’s biggest province and have named themselves to official posts in towns and cities, setting up checkpoints and flying Russian flags over government buildings.

There is also some support for Ukrainian unity in the region, but pro-Kiev activists have had a lower profile since the separatists took up arms.

One activist who helped organize a unity rally in Rubizhne, a town in the eastern Luhansk region, told Ukraine’s Channel 5 television that separatists attacked it, forcing the rally to disperse. Local police said a policeman was hurt when unidentified people tried to disrupt the rally.

In the regional capital Luhansk, Interfax-Ukraine news agency said a meeting of about 3,000 people in the local SBU headquarters had elected a “people’s governor” and voted to hold a two-stage referendum next month on union with Russia.

Ukraine announced an operation to retake rebel-held territory earlier this month, but that modest effort largely collapsed in disarray.

Kiev has declared an “Easter truce,” though it is far from clear it could muster any real force if it tried. The army is ill-equipped, untested and untrained for domestic operations, while the government in Kiev doubts the loyalty of the police.

The United States and EU have imposed visa bans and asset freezes on some Russians over the annexation of Crimea, measures explicitly designed not to have wider economic impact and which have been mocked as pointless by Moscow.

Washington and Brussels both say they are working on tougher measures they will impose unless Russia’s allies in eastern Ukraine back down, although building a consensus is tricky in Europe where many countries rely on Russian energy exports.

The OSCE, a European security body that includes both NATO members and Russia, has so far deployed around 100 monitors and mediators in Ukraine and expects their number to rise.

An OSCE spokesman said the mediators were visiting separatist-occupied buildings with copies of last week’s Geneva accord to explain it to the people inside.

“It’s a mixed experience dealing with checkpoints and so forth and there is a varying reaction to teams. There is a hardened attitude in Donetsk or Slaviansk but some other areas are more accommodating,” spokesman Michael Bociurkiw said. “When teams go to smaller centers people are more willing to talk.”



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Mutant worms stay sober, even on alcohol

U.S. researchers have developed "mutant worms" that do not get drunk by alcohol, a breakthrough that could lead to new treatment for people trying to quit drinking

Local

K-9 nose helps capture $150K in cocaine at…

A furry, four-legged security agent helped authorities stop an illegal cocaine shipment from sneaking past JFK customs.

National

Minnesota man asked to leave Southwest flight after…

A man and his two sons were asked to leave a Southwest Airlines flight after the man sent a tweet complaining about being treated rudely by a gate agent.

National

Man sues hospital after surprise penis amputation

An Alabama man who went in to a hospital last month for a circumcision awoke after surgery to find his penis had been amputated, his lawyer said on Thursday.

Arts

Scientists recreate world's smallest Monet copy

Scientists have reproduced a famous Impressionist painting using nano-printing, to create what has been described as the world's smallest work of art. Reworked at the…

Television

Jerry Seinfeld is ambidextrous, and other Reddit AMA…

See some of the weirder highlights of Jerry Seinfeld's recent Reddit AMA.

Going Out

Grab a pedestrian and start dancing at What…

As a New Yorker, I’ve mastered the art of focusing my gaze straight ahead. Though it occasionally piques my interest, the absurdities that play out…

Movies

Shia LaBeouf disorderly conduct case pushed to September

A judge on Thursday adjourned until September the disorderly conduct and harassment case against actor Shia LaBeouf, who was charged with disturbing a Broadway theater…

NFL

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player…

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player rankings

U.S. Soccer

NYCFC announce signing of Frank Lampard

The tease of a big signing Thursday by new MLS side NYCFC ended up being one rumored for weeks. England midfielder Frank Lampard agreed to…

NBA

NBA great LeBron James sends 800 cupcake apologies…

By Kim PalmerCLEVELAND (Reuters) - NBA star LeBron James, whose recent return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in his home state of Ohio sparked a frenzy…

NFL

Jerry Reese confident with Giants, skipping countdown clocks…

Last year, Giants GM Jerry Reese installed a countdown clock in the locker room to inspire Big Blue to play in their own stadium for Super Bowl XLVIII.

Tech

Forget Wi-Fi: Li-Fi could be the future

Li-Fi technology – developed by Mexican company Sisoft – is wireless internet connectivity using specialized LED light.

Tech

Weather app Climendo might be the most accurate…

The wait for a truly accurate weather forecast could finally be over thanks to a nifty new app called Climendo.

Tech

Napkin Table puts focus off the phone and…

Michael Jan, a design student at Tunghai University in Taiwan, has invented a serviette-picnic blanket hybrid called the Napkin Table.

Style

Essie's new Color Boutique

Essie launches high-tech kiosks at major airports and malls across the country.