Ukrainian, Russian and Western diplomats arrived for the emergency
talks in Geneva, but there was little hope of any progress in
resolving a crisis that has seen armed pro-Russian fighters seize
whole swathes of Ukraine, while Moscow masses tens of thousands of
troops on the frontier.
President Vladimir Putin, who overturned decades of post-Cold War
diplomacy last month by declaring Russia's right to intervene in
neighboring countries and annexing Ukraine's Crimea region, accused
the authorities in Kiev of plunging the country into an "abyss".
Kiev fears that he will use any violence as a pretext to launch an
"Instead of realizing that there is something wrong with the
Ukrainian government and attempting dialogue, they made more threats
of force ... This is another very grave crime by Kiev's current
leaders," Putin said in a televised question-and-answer session with
the Russian public that has become an annual event.
"I hope that they are able to realize what a pit, what an abyss the
current authorities are in and dragging the country into," said
Putin, who dismissed as "rubbish" accusations that Russian agents
were acting in east Ukraine.
At the national guard headquarters in Mariupol there was clear
evidence that the building had come under attack.
A single grey police jeep was inside the compound on Thursday
morning with broken windows, flat tires and bent doors. The gates of
the compound had been flattened. There were shell casings outside
the gates and several unused petrol bombs.
"They came here around 8:15 p.m., demanding that we surrender our
weapons and join the people. There were some women with them, but
then they left," said police major Oleksandr Kolesnichenko, deputy
commander of the base.
"Then they used a truck to break through the gate. There was some
incoming fire. I could not see who was shooting — it was dark," he
said. "We fired first in the air. We fired warning shots after they
entered the compound. We had no casualties. We are safe."
A separatist representative, who gave his name only as Sergei, said
there had been a peaceful rally at the base.
"We had a peaceful rally to urge the police to join the people. The
commander of the compound warned he would order troops to shoot to
"Then there was shooting. Some people came with Molotov cocktails.
We have verified that one person is dead and more than 10 wounded."
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said an armed group of about 300
separatists attacked the base with guns and petrol bombs. Three
separatists were killed and 13 wounded, he said. No guardsmen were
The new deadly clashes took place hours after a modest Ukrainian
military operation to recapture territory elsewhere from armed
pro-Russian rebels ended in disarray on Wednesday, with troops
surrendering rather than open fire.
Pro-Russian militants control buildings in about 10 towns in eastern
Ukraine after launching their uprising on April 6. In the biggest
province in the region they have declared an independent "People's
Republic of Donetsk".
On Wednesday, an armored column of Ukrainian paratroops was
humiliated in an attempt to retake some towns. Pro-Moscow
separatists took control of some of their armored vehicles and
crowds surrounded another column, forcing the troops to hand over
the pins from their rifles and retreat.
Acting President Oleksander Turchinov said on Thursday the entire
paratroop brigade would now be disbanded and those who surrendered
would be punished.
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European countries and the United States are threatening Russia with
more sanctions unless it takes steps at the Geneva meeting to show
it will de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine, although officials say
they expect no breakthrough.
So far, diplomacy has failed to keep up with events on the ground,
with Russia's partisans seizing control of territory before Western
countries can formulate a response.
Bloodshed has been limited so far during the uprising in the east,
with two people killed on Sunday, including a member of the
Ukrainian state security forces shot dead. Kiev says it is doing all
it can to avoid any shooting.
The United States and European Union
have so far imposed visa bans and asset freezes on a small number of
Russian individuals, a response that Moscow has openly mocked.
However, the Western states say they are now contemplating more
serious measures that could hurt Russia's economy more broadly,
which could be put into place shortly after Thursday's Geneva
"What I have said consistently is that each time Russia takes these
kinds of steps that are designed to violate their sovereignty, that
there are going to be consequences," U.S. President Barack Obama
said on Wednesday in an interview with CBS. Using words unheard
since the Cold War, he said the United States had stronger
conventional military forces than Russia, and neither side wanted a
"We don't need a war," he said.
Western countries have repeatedly made clear they are not prepared
to fight for Ukraine, but the NATO alliance announced military
deployments on Wednesday to beef up defenses of member states such
as Poland and the Baltic countries, which feel threatened by Russian
Upon arriving in Geneva on Wednesday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister
Andriy Deshchytsia said there was still time for negotiations to
ease tensions with Russia.
"I think that we still have a chance to de-escalate the situation
using the diplomatic means," he said. "And we will try hard. We are
trying hard — not only Ukraine — but also the United States.
However, the time is now, not only to express the concerns, but to
look for a more concrete and adequate response to Russia's plans and
Kiev and the West believe Russian agents are directing the
insurgency in the east. A U.S. official said Washington was looking
for evidence in Geneva that Russia would stop.
"The idea here is that they would stop aiding and abetting and
supporting these separatists and that they would pull their troops
back from the borders," the official told reporters as Secretary of
State John Kerry flew to Geneva.
The European Commission took a step towards preparing for wider
sanctions, handing documents to EU member states on Wednesday
explaining the potential impact on their economies of stricter trade
and financial measures, diplomats said.
The documents examine energy, finance, trade and other areas. A
number of EU countries that rely heavily on Russian gas supplies are
nervous about possible retaliation from Moscow, and at least one EU
diplomat said the measures had to be balanced.
(Additional reporting by Richard Balmforth in Kiev, Stephanie
Nebehay, Arshad Mohammed and Catherine Koppel in Geneva, Christian
Lowe and Alexei Anishchuk in Moscow and Jeff Mason in Washington;
writing by Peter Graff; editing by Will Waterman)
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