Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ukraine crisis: Kerry accuses Russia of 'destabilisation'

Kerry: 'Subterfuge and sabotage by Russia'
US Secretary of State John Kerry has accused Russia of "distraction, deception and destabilisation" in eastern Ukraine.

In a strongly worded statement, he called on Moscow to help defuse the crisis there or face further sanctions.

Earlier, Russia called on the US to make Kiev stop raids on pro-Moscow separatists in the east.

Russia ordered new military exercises on its border following the raids, drawing condemnation from Ukraine.

Mr Kerry was speaking amid an increasing war of words between the US and Russia over events in eastern Ukraine.

At the scene

This was unusually blunt language from America's top diplomat. John Kerry countered what he called "President Putin's fantasy about what is playing out on the ground", laying out the case in prosecutorial style that Russia is co-ordinating the unrest in eastern Ukraine.

Rather than speaking on behalf of the US, John Kerry repeatedly referred to how "the world" judged Russia's actions. His message was that Moscow is isolated and nobody believes the Kremlin's version of events.

But strong words were all that Mr Kerry directed at Russia. He stopped short of announcing new sanctions although he said "costs" for Russia would only grow.

The US has been preparing additional sanctions against Russia for weeks, and speaking in Japan, President Barack Obama said they were now "teed up".

Pro-Russian separatists are occupying key buildings in a dozen eastern Ukrainian towns, defying the central government.

Mr Kerry praised the interim authorities in Kiev, saying they had honoured the agreement struck in Geneva on 17 April to de-escalate the crisis.

But he said Russia had "put its faith in distraction, deception and destabilisation".

"Not a single Russian official has publicly gone on television in Ukraine and called on the separatists to support the Geneva agreement, to support the stand-down, to give up their weapons and get out of the Ukrainian buildings," he said.

He accused Russian media of promoting President Vladimir Putin's "fantasy" about events in Ukraine and said Moscow continued to "fund, co-ordinate and fuel a heavily-armed separatist movement in Donetsk".

"This is a full-throated effort to actively sabotage the democratic process through gross external intimidation that has been brought inside Ukraine," he said.

Mr Kerry said US intelligence was confident that Russia was "playing an active role in destabilising eastern Ukraine" with personnel, weapons, money and operational planning".
He added that the window for Russia to change course was closing and that if it did not choose to de-escalate, the US was ready to impose further sanctions.
Ukraine map
Earlier, the Russian foreign ministry urged the US to use its influence with Kiev to "convince it to refrain from rash steps that will plunge Ukraine even deeper into the depths of crisis".
The Geneva agreement states that illegal armed groups, including those who have seized public buildings, must return home.

The morning raids by Ukrainian commandos on pro-Russian checkpoints around the town of Sloviansk left at least two separatists dead.
Oleg Boldyrev reports from the scene of the operation near Sloviansk

On hearing of the attacks, President Putin warned there would be "consequences", adding: "If Kiev has really begun to use the army against the country's population... that is a very serious crime against its own people".

On Wednesday Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the US of "running the show" in Ukraine.

Moscow has tens of thousands of troops along its side of the border.

Russian television quoted the ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, as saying that Moscow would have "international-legal grounds" to deploy "peacekeepers" to Ukraine, as it had during the Russia-Georgia conflict of 2008.
One of the checkpoints taken out by Ukrainian forces near Sloviansk, 24 April One of the checkpoints taken out by Ukrainian forces near Sloviansk
Pro-Russian activist at Krasny Linam near Sloviansk, 24 April The pro-Russians continue to control many checkpoints in the area, including here at Krasny Linam
Ukraine's acting President, Olexander Turchynov, 24 April Ukraine's acting President, Olexander Turchynov, told Russia to stop its "blackmail"
Ukrainian helicopter drops leaflets over Sloviansk, 24 April A Ukrainian helicopter drops leaflets over Sloviansk
Ukraine's acting President, Olexander Turchynov, called on Russia to pull back its troops and end what he called its "blackmail".

Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytisa said Ukrainian forces would fight the Russians if they had to.

In other developments on Thursday:
  • The funeral took place in Horlivka of pro-Ukrainian politician Volodymyr Rybak, who was abducted and killed in Donetsk region
  • US journalist Simon Ostrovsky, held by pro-Russian separatists in Sloviansk, has been freed
  • Slovakia and Ukraine could sign a deal on gas supplies on Monday, allowing for a "reverse flow" to reduce Kiev's dependence on Russia
Unrest began in Ukraine last November over whether the country should look towards Moscow or the West.

Last month Russia annexed Ukraine's mainly ethnic-Russian Crimea. It followed a referendum in the region that backed joining the Russian Federation but which the West and Kiev deemed illegal.
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