Ukraine says operation underway to end separatist grip on eastern town
Ukrainian security forces have launched an “anti-terrorist” operation to end the grip of separatists on an eastern town, Ukraine’s interior minister said on Sunday.
“An anti-terrorist operation has begun in Slaviansk. It is being directed by the anti-terrorist center of the state security service. Forces from all the security units of the country have been brought in,” Interfax news agency quoted the minister, Arsen Avakov, as saying on his Facebook page.
Pro-Russian activists carrying automatic weapons seized government buildings in the town about 150 km (90 miles) from the Russian border on Saturday, and set up barricades on the outskirts of the city.
A Reuters correspondent outside the town’s police headquarters, one of the buildings seized, said two military helicopters were flying overhead.
About a dozen women, who had been in the building when it was seized, were evacuated as soon as Avakov’s announcement was made known.
A group of up to a 100 civilians, many of them elderly women, stood in front of the building, chanting messages of solidarity to the protesters inside, including “Referendum!”, a reference to demands for a local poll to be held to determine a separate status for the region.
On the building’s forecourt, which itself was barricaded, protesters beat out a defiant tattoo on shields they were carrying.
Russia says armed action by Ukraine would threaten peace talks
Russia warned the United States on Saturday that any armed action by Ukrainian authorities in the east of Ukraine would undermine efforts at a diplomatic solution to the conflict and put planned peace talks at risk.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made the warning during a call from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who expressed concern about Russia’s role in “inciting” trouble in eastern Ukraine, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Separatists have seized state premises in eastern Ukrainian towns in recent days.
Lavrov said Ukraine was “demonstrating its inability to take responsibility for the fate of the country”.
He said that any use of force against Russian speakers in the east of Ukraine “would undermine the potential for cooperation … including the holding of planned four-party talks in Geneva” on April 17 between Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union.