Washington says it 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. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was due in Kiev
later on Monday.
Kiev and Moscow traded accusations over a deadly shooting on Easter
Sunday morning, when at least three people were killed at a
checkpoint manned by armed separatists. Moscow and its separatist
allies accused Ukrainian nationalists of attacking the checkpoint;
Kiev said Russia had provoked the violence.
In a later incident, the Ukrainian defense ministry said gunmen on
motorcycles fired on an army checkpoint between Donetsk and
Slaviansk shortly after dark on Sunday. The troops opened fire,
wounding one attacker and capturing two, it said.
Russia, Ukraine, the European Union and the United States signed off
on an agreement in Geneva on Thursday, designed to lower tension in
the worst confrontation between Russia and the West since the Cold
The agreement calls for occupied buildings to be vacated under the
auspices of envoys from the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe, a security body. All sides are meant to
refrain from force.
But no sooner had the accord been signed than both sides accused the
other of breaking it, while the pro-Moscow rebels said the pledge to
withdraw from occupied buildings was not binding on them.
"Steps are being taken — above all by those who seized power in Kiev — not only that do not fulfill, but that crudely violate the Geneva
agreement," Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday,
describing the attack on the separatist checkpoint as a crime.
President Vladimir Putin overturned decades of post-Cold War
diplomacy by announcing last month that Russia has the right to
intervene on the territory of its neighbors to protect Russian
speakers. He then seized and 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
deeply 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.
Ukraine announced an "anti-terrorist" operation to retake the
territory last week, but that modest effort largely collapsed in
disarray when a column of paratroops surrendered rifle parts and
some armored vehicles to a separatist crowd.
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 European Union have imposed visa bans and
asset freezes on a small number of Russians over the annexation of
Crimea, measures that Moscow has openly mocked.
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Washington and Brussels both say they are working on tougher
economic measures to 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.
One European diplomat said the Geneva deal was a way for Putin to
buy time and undermine momentum towards sanctions: "Talks and
compromises are just part of his tactics," said the diplomat. "He
wants to have Ukraine."
The OSCE, a European security body that
includes both NATO members and Russia, has deployed around 100
monitors and mediators in Ukraine in 10 different cities including
the capital Kiev and eastern and southern towns.
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."
He said there were reports of "a handful of buildings" being
evacuated, though he was unable to give any details. So far Reuters
has not been able to confirm any reports of separatists standing
The separatists in the east have grown increasingly assertive and
hostile to outsiders. A lawyer said on Monday the rebels had
detained a Ukrainian journalist, accusing her of "war crimes" during
protests that toppled Yanukovich. There were also reports of other
journalists being held.
Irma Krat, 29, was held late on Sunday by militants in the city of
Slaviansk, said Oleg Veremienko, a lawyer for the online television
news site Krat runs. Russian Internet channel Life News posted video
of her being escorted by masked men in combat gear and of an
activist saying she was under arrest.
Details remained disputed in Sunday's shootout in Slaviansk, a town
on an eastern highway north of Donetsk which has become a heavily
militarized rebel redoubt.
The separatists said armed men from Ukraine's Right Sector
nationalist group had attacked them. The Right Sector denied any
role, saying Russian special forces were behind the clash.
The town's self-appointed pro-Russia mayor placed a curfew on the
town and appealed to Putin to consider sending troops.
Separatist militiamen told Reuters four vehicles had approached
their checkpoint at around 2:00 a.m. and opened fire.
"We had three dead, four wounded," one of the separatist fighters,
called Vladimir, told Reuters at the checkpoint, where there were
two burned-out jeeps.
(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets and Alastair Macdonald in
Kiev, Dmitry Madorsky in Slaviansk, Alissa de Carbonnel in Donetsk
and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; writing by Peter Graff; editing by
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