Russia and the U.S. traded barbs at an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council as a deadline neared for pro-Russian separatists to leave buildings they occupied amid escalating violence in eastern Ukraine.
Russia called the meeting after protests near Slovyansk, about 240 kilometers (150 miles) from the Russian frontier escalated. Camouflaged gunmen fired on Kiev government troops in an anti-terror operation, killing one serviceman and wounding five, the Ukrainian government said.
At the UN, Russia demanded that the U.S. pressure Ukraine to drop the deadline set by acting President Oleksandr Turchynov for protesters to vacate the buildings by this morning Ukraine time. The U.S. said Russia was destabilizing Ukraine and that President Vladimir Putin’s government was telling “fairy tales” in accusing the West of fomenting the unrest.
The meeting comes as officials from NATO, the European Union and the U.S. urged Russia to “de-escalate” the crisis and pull back its troops from Ukraine’s borders. Envoys from Ukraine, Russia, the U.S. and the EU also are scheduled to hold talks in Geneva April 17 on resolving the crisis. The U.S. said in a separate statement Russia’s actions in east Ukraine are similar to those carried out in Crimea before it was annexed by Russia last month.
Ukraine’s Ambassador to the UN Yuriy Sergeyev said Russia is sending special forces agents into his country to organize the unrest.
Choreographed by Russia
“Insecurity in Ukraine is written and choreographed by Russia,” U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power told the Security Council last night. “The U.S. stands with Ukraine and the fundamental principle that the future of Ukraine must be decided by the Ukrainian people.”
Power added that the Obama administration expects to agree to a $1 billion loan guarantee for Ukraine today and that the U.S. favors speeding up the implementation of Ukraine’s accord with the International Monetary Fund. Russia in turn blamed the U.S.
“This is their responsibility,” Russian envoy to UN Vitaly Churkin told the Security Council, referring to the U.S. “Clearly they are the chaperoning power of the people that came to power after the coup. So it’s their responsibility to prevent further escalation of this crisis.”
The Kiev regime, along with its backers — the U.S. and other Western powers — must “disassociate themselves from neo-Nazis, stop force against the Ukrainian people and swiftly start genuine dialogue with the full participation of all the people,” Churkin said.
Power responded that the U.S. was committed to dialogue if Russia pulls back its forces.
The confrontation near Slovyansk followed the takeover of a regional police station in Donetsk by pro-Russian gunmen and battles in which police used force to stop separatists from seizing buildings in other towns.
Ukrainian officers “spilled blood today in a war that is being carried out by the Russian Federation,” Turchynov said in a statement on his website. “The aggressor has not stopped and continues to organize unrest in the east.”
He pledged amnesty for members of the pro-Russian groups who vacate seized buildings by this morning.
After responding to the annexation of Crimea by blacklisting Russian officials, businessmen and a bank, the U.S. and EU have vowed to impose tougher sanctions on Russia if President Putin’s government makes another move threatening Ukraine’s sovereignty.
While continuing diplomatic efforts, the U.S. is “prepared to enact further sanctions in response to Russia’s unjustified & destabilizing actions,” Power said late yesterday on Twitter.
Both sides traded blame for the escalation. Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted as Ukraine’s president in February following months of protests over decision to align with Russia rather than the EU, said on Russian television last night that the U.S. is behind the move against the pro-Russian separatists.
One person was killed and nine were wounded in Slovyansk, Russian news service Interfax reported, citing Donetsk regional Governor Serhiy Taruta. It didn’t give details on who the casualties were.
Russian state-run Rossiya 24 TV said Ukrainian pro-Russian “self-defense” forces led by an Afghan War veteran had spread across Slovyansk, and troops allied to the government in Kiev arrived in armored personnel carriers and by helicopter.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry has proof that Russian special service agents are involved in the “separatist mutiny” and the seizure of buildings, it said in an e-mailed statement. Ukrainian officials will present the evidence to the international community on April 17, when they meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and EU officials, the ministry said.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s government wants to increase the powers of regions and to resolve the crisis that’s as soon as possible, he said.
Intelligence reports from the U.S. and its allies indicate that some of the pro-Russian demonstrators infiltrated cities in eastern and southern Ukraine during the past month or even earlier as part of a Russian plan to divide Ukraine into federated regions, some of which may hold referendums to rejoin Russia, as Crimea did, two U.S. officials said.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the reports, which they stressed aren’t conclusive, the officials said that the assessment continues to be that Putin prefers using a campaign of provocation, propaganda, bribery and subversion — rather than an outright invasion by Russian troops — to take over some of parts of eastern and southern Ukraine.
“Russia tells us fairy tales,” said Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN. “We are being bombarded by disinformation and propaganda, while the Ukrainians are being confronted by violence and incitement.”
Putin has been ratcheting up pressure on Ukraine, threatening to halt gas shipments to the country. A stoppage may also hurt supplies to the rest of Europe. About 15 percent of Europe’s supplies flow through Ukraine, making it a linchpin in the continent’s energy security.
Without a groundswell of support in eastern regions, it’s probable that Russia will try to push for a federalized Ukraine to weaken the government’s control in the east, said Otilia Dhand, an analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London. Without local support, Russian military intervention would be needed to shift the provinces to Russian control, she said.
“Kiev will have to walk a very thin line between maintaining order and appearing heavy-handed — and giving Russia an excuse to intervene,” Dhand wrote in an e-mail to Bloomberg. “Unfortunately, the growing tension is conducive to accidents and mismanagement, which could potentially lead to both civil conflict or intervention.”