Russia, Washington Exchange Charges of 'Provocations' in Ukraine
April 10, 2014
AntiWar.com & The New York Times / RIA Novosti
The secessionist protests in Eastern Ukraine and Ukraine's military takeover of the city of Kharkiv have added dramatically to East-West tensions -- and also to rumors of foreign involvement. Secretary of State John Kerry openly accused Russia of sending "provocateurs" to and bribing ethnic Russians to protest against the pro-West government. Kerry's Russian counterpart shot back that Ukraine's armed offensive against Kharkiv involved "US mercenaries" from the Greystone company, a subsidiary of the notorious Blackwater.
Allegations Fly on US and Russian
Involvement in East Ukraine Crisis
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(April 8, 2014) -- The secessionist protests in Eastern Ukraine and the subsequent Ukraine military takeover of the city of Kharkiv have added dramatically to East-West tensions in the area, and also to rumors and allegations of foreign involvement.
It's not just unsourced claims from anonymous people, either. Secretary of State John Kerry openly accused Russia of sending "provocateurs" to Donetsk and the other cities and bribing ethnic Russians to protest against the pro-West government. Kerry's Russian counterpart similarly claimed that the Ukrainian military offensive against Kharkiv involved "US mercenaries" from the Greystone company, a subsidiary of the notorious Blackwater.
Ukrainian government spokesmen insisted that there were "no US special forces" involved in the Kharkiv operation, which likely intended to be a denial of the Blackwater claim, but was worded in a way that leaves the question open, and the rumors swirling.
US and NATO Warn Russia Against Further Intervention in Ukraine
Andrew Higgins and David M. Herszenhorn / The New York Times
DONETSK, Ukraine (APRIL 8, 2014) -- As the government in Kiev moved to reassert control over pro-Russian protesters across eastern Ukraine, the United States and NATO issued stern warnings to Moscow about further intervention in the country's affairs amid continuing fears of an eventual Russian incursion.
Secretary of State John Kerry accused the Kremlin of fomenting the unrest, calling the protests the work of saboteurs whose machinations were as "ham-handed as they are transparent." Speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he added: "No one should be fooled -- and believe me, no one is fooled -- by what could potentially be a contrived pretext for military intervention just as we saw in Crimea. It is clear that Russian special forces and agents have been the catalysts behind the chaos of the last 24 hours."
The secretary general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said Russia would be making a "historic mistake" by going into Ukraine, and he urged the Kremlin to "step back." At a news conference in Paris, he said any such actions "would have grave consequences for our relationship with Russia" and "would further isolate Russia internationally."
In Moscow, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, on Tuesday denied the accusations of Russian meddling in Ukraine. He said Russia would seek talks on the Ukrainian political crisis that could involve the United States, the European Union and "all the political forces in Ukraine," which should include representatives of the southeastern region.
But none of that was soothing nerves rattled by days of protests here, orchestrated or otherwise. With pro-Russian demonstrators having been expelled from a government building in the eastern city of Kharkiv and the government determined to end the protests across the south and east, separatist protesters here in the east's biggest urban center reinforced barricades outside the occupied regional administration building and vowed to stand firm, setting up a possibly violent showdown.
The operation in Kharkiv was announced by Ukraine's acting interior minister, Arsen Avakov, who had traveled to the city to supervise the action. He wrote on Facebook that the building was retaken "without firing a shot, grenades, or other special weapons," and that the troops were part of a broader redeployment in the region to contain unrest that Ukraine has accused Russia of orchestrating.
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement in response to the use of the Interior Ministry troops, accusing Ukraine's government of embedding nationalist militants from the group Right Sector and private American mercenaries from a company called Greystone in its forces in the east. The statement said the American contractors were disguised as members of a Ukrainian military unit called Falcon.
A private American security company formerly affiliated with Greystone, called Academi, issued a statement in mid-March saying its employees were not working in Ukraine, after similar allegations surfaced in the Russian news media. But it was unclear what role, if any, Greystone had in Ukraine.
The ministry, which has denounced the government in Kiev as the illegitimate product of a coup, warned against the use of military force in eastern Ukraine. "We call immediately for the halt of any military preparations, which risk the outbreak of civil war," it said in its statement.
Pro-Russian demonstrators seized government buildings Sunday evening in several eastern cities, including Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk, posing a challenge for the authorities in Kiev, who wrested power from the former president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, using similar tactics. Russian troops are deployed along the border nearby, and the Kremlin has warned that it is prepared to intervene again in Ukraine to protect the many ethnic Russians living there, as it had in Crimea in the south.
Provoking an attack is evidently the fervent wish of the pro-Russian activists here, who on Monday declared the creation of an independent People's Republic of Donetsk and waved Russian flags and the black, red and blue standard of their new state, which even Moscow has shown no inclination to recognize.
Between blasts of Soviet martial music dating from World War II, they pleaded with a crowd of predominantly older supporters gathered in a square below to resist any move by Ukrainian authorities to retake the building and snuff out their new state. No weapons were visible, but a security adviser to the Ukrainian government said about 30 Kalashnikov rifles and a number of grenades had been seized by protesters who briefly took control of the Donetsk headquarters of Ukraine's state security service. Ukrainian Interior Ministry troops took back the security agency building late Monday.
"Comrades, beware of provocateurs and get ready to defend yourselves from the fascists," a middle-aged man in an orange hard hat screamed through a bullhorn, echoing Russia's line that Ukraine fell to neo-Nazi extremists after the flight of Mr. Yanukovych in late February.
Bands of pro-Russia youths, however, mimicked the tactics of the pro-Europe protest movement that led to Mr. Yanukovch's departure. As rumors spread of an impending crackdown, they formed self-defense teams armed with clubs and metal rods, dug up paving stones to hurl at troops in the event of a government attack and piled rubber tires and sandbags around the entrance of the occupied multistory regional administration building.
"This is our land, Russian land," said Oleg Shifkemenko, waving a flag emblazoned with the word "Rus," for an ancient Slavic people celebrated by Russian nationalists. "Russians built the roads here, the railways, the factories. We built everything, and it is ours, forever." Despite his Ukrainian name, he described himself as a "proud Russian."
But like many others involved in the unrest, Mr. Shifkemenko expressed uncertainty over whether the objective is to protect the so-called People's Republic of Donetsk, to merge Donetsk with Russia or simply to gain more autonomy for the region.
Ukrainian security experts said the pro-Russia camp in Donetsk was bitterly divided over its goals and scoffed at its attempt to seize power. "They have no clear idea of what they want," said Nikolai Yakubovich, an adviser to the Interior Ministry in Kiev. "It is a nonsense, a dangerous nonsense." He said negotiations had started between protest leaders in Donetsk and the authorities but had been hampered by infighting between rival pro-Russia factions over their aims.
As part of its efforts to regain control, the government in Kiev flew antiterrorism forces to the Donetsk airport on Tuesday and vowed to prevent eastern Ukraine from going the way of Crimea, where pro-Russia demonstrations paved the way for a formal annexation by Moscow.
Mr. Yakubovich said the authorities would hold off on trying to storm the occupied administration building and focus on undermining the resolve of those inside by making clear that they face criminal charges with sentences of up to 15 years if they persist in their actions. "We have people working to let them know that this is very serious," he said.
Unlike the pro-Europe protest movement in Kiev, the stirrings in Donetsk have so far attracted little support from the middle class and seem dominated by pensioners nostalgic for the Soviet Union and angry, and often drunk, young men.
"They used to sit at home and play games on the computer," said a 27-year-old company manager who gave his name only as Oleg. "But now they are here playing for real." He said he had not supported the protests in Kiev against Mr. Yanukovych but also did not support what he called the "pointless disorder" now unfolding in eastern cities.
The lack of widespread public support makes the government's task easier, but any crackdown that results in serious bloodshed would probably widen the appeal of the protesters in a mostly Russian-speaking region that has little liking for leaders in Kiev, who mostly speak Ukrainian.
Andrew Roth and Noah Sneider contributed reporting from Moscow, and Michael R. Gordon from Washington.
Kiev Says US Special Forces
Not Part of Protest Crackdown in Eastern Ukraine
KIEV (April 8, 2014) -- A senior official in the Ukrainian presidential administration said Tuesday that neither radical militants from the Right Sector movement nor US special forces participated in an operation earlier in the day against protestors in the eastern city of Kharkiv.
"I officially declare that no militants of Right Sector, not to mention US Special Forces, are currently active in Kharkiv, Donetsk or Lugansk," said Sergei Pashinskiy, the acting head of Ukraine's Presidential Executive Office.
The Russian Foreign Ministry earlier voiced concerns about the deployment of military resources in the country's east, including US mercenaries and militants of the illegally armed far-right group Right Sector.
According to the ministry, their task is to suppress protests in the country's southeastern regions, which have been organized by residents against Kiev's current policies. A source close to Ukrainian law enforcement reported earlier that three combat units were transferred to the regions, including US special forces and Right Sector militants.
Protesters have been rallying for federalization across Ukraine's eastern and southeastern regions of Donetsk, Kharkiv, and Lugansk, calling for Crimea-style referendums on the status of their regions within Ukraine.
Beginning last month, protests in eastern cities have been held each Sunday, with citizens refusing to accept their newly-appointed governors as legitimate, as they were installed by the organizers of a coup in the capital.
On Monday, protestors in the Donetsk region established a "people's council," which declared the formation of an independent Donetsk Republic and announced plans to hold a referendum by mid-May on joining Russia. The protestors also called on Moscow to send in a peacekeeping force.
In Kharkiv, activists seized the Regional Administration building and proclaimed the formation of a Kharkiv Republic.
Russia has repeatedly said that Ukrainian nationalists and their aggressive rhetoric bear full responsibility for the crisis in the country, which resulted in the reunification of Crimea with Russia last month.
Moscow said that a federal form of government is the only way out of the protracted political crisis in Ukraine, currently a unitary state which is de-facto split into a Ukrainian-speaking west and a Russian-speaking east and south.
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