The U.N. Security Council has called an emergency meeting at Russia’s request to discuss the growing crisis in Ukraine.
Russia’s U.N. mission sent a text message to reporters saying a closed meeting of the Security Council would begin at 8 p.m. Sunday (0000 GMT). The Russian mission said it had requested the meeting.
The President of the Security Council confirmed in an email that members have been invited to attend “informal consultations” on Ukraine Sunday evening.
The meeting comes as the new Ukrainian government declared it would deploy armed forces to quash an increasingly bold pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian special forces exchanged gunfire with a pro-Russia militia in an eastern city Sunday morning, with at least one security officer killed and five others wounded.
Ukraine Tension Turns Deadly as Russia Seeks UN Meeting
Russia called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council tonight after Ukrainian security forces battled pro-Russian gunmen in the eastern town of Slovyansk.
The Security Council session was scheduled for 8 p.m. in New York as the U.S. and Russia’s allies traded accusations over who was behind the violence.
Camouflaged gunmen fired on units deployed by the government in Kiev in an anti-terror operation near Slovyansk, about 240 kilometers (150 miles) from the Russian frontier, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said today on Facebook. One serviceman was killed and five were wounded, with an unknown number of dead on the separatist side, he said.
Yesterday’s clashes followed the takeover of a regional police station in Donetsk and gun battles in which police stopped separatists from seizing buildings in other towns.
“It has all the telltale signs of what we saw in Crimea” before Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said on ABC’s “This Week” program. “It’s professional, it’s coordinated, there’s nothing grassroots-seeming about it.”
In the worst confrontation with Russia since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. and EU responded to the annexation of Crimea by blacklisting Russian officials, businessmen and a bank. Threats by the U.S. and its allies for further sanctions directly targeting Russia’s economy have yet to stop escalating tensions.
Ukrainian officers “spilled blood today in a war that is being carried out by the Russian Federation,” Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said today in statement on his website. “The aggressor has not stopped and continues to organize unrest in the east.”
Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted as president in February after months of protests, said on Russian television that the country was on the brink of a civil war and said the U.S. must share responsibility.
Officials from NATO, the EU and the U.S. urged Russia to “de-escalate” the crisis and pull back its troops from Ukraine’s borders. The National Defense and Security Council in Kiev agreed to start a wide-scale “anti-terrorist” operation in eastern Ukraine and to involve the military along with Interior Ministry troops, Turchynov said.
“Over the past few hours we’ve witnessed the worst-case scenario playing out in Ukraine,” Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who has advocated a strong response to Russia, said in an interview with Radio Zet in Warsaw.
One person was killed and nine were wounded in Slovyansk, 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.
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 Russian President Vladimir 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.
The U.K. Foreign Office said the pro-Russian actions marked an escalation of an “already dangerous situation.”
“Assumptions that Russia is complicit are inevitable as long as Moscow does not publicly distance itself from these latest lawless actions,” the Foreign Office said.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said the reappearance of men with specialized Russian weapons and identical uniforms without insignia resembling those worn by Moscow-backed troops during “Russia’s illegal and illegitimate seizure of Crimea” represented a “grave development.”
“Russia is speaking and behaving not as a partner, but as an adversary,” Rasmussen wrote in Danish newspaper Politiken. “Russia is also waging a propaganda war the like of which we have not seen since the end of the Cold War. Its purpose is to pervert the truth, divert attention from Russia’s illegal actions and subvert the authorities in Ukraine.”
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.
Government buildings were seized last week in the cities Kharkiv and Luhansk, near the border with Russia, and gunmen took over the regional police station in Donetsk.
Officers in Krasnyi Lyman and Kramatorsk exchanged fire with attackers yesterday. Today, groups of several thousand demonstrators backing the Kiev-based government gathered in the cities of Odessa, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhya.
Fifty protesters were injured in Kharkiv when pro-Russian activists attacked their rally, Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said in a statement on its website. In the Donetsk region, pro-Russian activists seized council buildings in towns including Mariupol and Enakievo, while attempts in Druzhkovka, Horlovka, Dobropolye failed.
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.”
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s government wants to increase the powers of regions and to resolve the crisis that’s gripping the country as soon as possible, he said yesterday.