JNN 15 April 2014 Kiev : Pro-Russian separatists on Monday ignored an ultimatum to leave occupied government buildings in eastern Ukraine while another group of rebels attacked a police headquarters as a threatened military offensive by government forces failed to materialize.
Rebels in the town of Slaviansk, which was expected on Monday to be the focus of a broad government “anti-terrorist” operation involving the army, issued a bold call for Russian President Vladimir Putin to help them, Reuters reported.
Though he said on Monday that the offensive was going ahead, Ukraine’s interim president Oleksander Turchinov sacked the state security chief in charge of the operation, signaling possible discord behind the scenes.
Turchinov also took a risky step to try to undercut rebels’ demands, by holding out the prospect of a referendum on the future shape of the Ukrainian state. He suggested this could be held at the same time as a presidential election on May 25.
As the 9 a.m. deadline issued by authorities in Kiev expired, a Reuters reporter in the flashpoint city of Slaviansk, where armed men had seized two government buildings, saw nothing to show the rebels were obeying the ultimatum.
But one of the rebel leaders, in an appeal issued through journalists, asked Putin to “help us as much as you can”.
Also in Slaviansk, about 150 km (90 miles) from the Russian border, a small airfield which was occupied by Ukrainian air force planes on Sunday was empty on Monday and pro-separatist forces said they were now in control of it.
In the city of Horlivka, meanwhile, about 100 pro-Russian separatists attacked the police headquarters, a witness told Reuters. Video footage on Ukrainian television showed an ambulance treating people apparently injured in the attack.
In all, separatists have seized government buildings and security facilities in 10 cities.
Angered by the death of a state security officer and the wounding of two comrades near Slavyansk, Turchinov warned rebels that an anti-terrorist operation involving the army would begin unless they laid down their arms, and that the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine “will soon be stabilized”.
His warning raised fears of possible Russian military intervention, but there were no signs of any Ukrainian forces in Slaviansk on Monday and no sign of an anti-terrorist operation.
Turchynov also called for the deployment of United Nations peacekeeping troops in the east of the country, where pro-Russian insurgents have occupied buildings in nearly 10 cities, AP reported.
In a telephone conversation with Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, Turchynov suggested that an “anti-terrorist operation” could be conducted jointly by Ukrainian security forces and UN peacekeepers, according to the presidential web site.
Russia not interested in destabilized Ukraine
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday that Moscow is not interested in destabilizing the political situation in Ukraine.
If Kiev, along with EU and US claims about arresting some Russian agents, they have to bring the evidence, he added, according to RT.
Those who approve Kiev coup-appointed government in its crackdown on anti-Maidan protesters in south-eastern Ukraine, should answer for this, he added during the press conference with his Sudanese colleague Ali Karti.
“Ukrainian citizens should have equal rights, there should not be ‘second-class people’ who have to suffer from insults and humiliation from neo-Nazis,” he added.
Lavrov said that Russia is interested in a united, friendly Ukraine where all its citizens live together peacefully and have a chance to normally interact with their neighbors.
This will be possible only if the country undergoes thorough constitutional reform, he added.
EU okays 1-bn euro aid to Ukraine
Meanwhile, the European Union on Monday formally approved a one-billion-euro assistance package to help Ukraine’s interim authorities overcome the country’s deep financial problems, AFP reported.
And in a further move to revive the Ukrainian economy, EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg also signed off on a plan to lower customs duties on Ukrainian goods that could save the country almost 500 million euros a year.
The ministers also added four people to a list of 18 Ukrainians subject to an EU visa ban and asset freeze since March 5 for misappropriating Ukrainian state funds.
There were no immediate details on the four but EU diplomats said they were Ukrainians who, along with the other 18, were targeted by judicial investigations for fraud against the state.