Since 15 April the Ukrainian government forces have attempted to clear out pro-Russian separatist strongholds in eastern Ukraine. Ten days later, the anti-terror operations are still continuing and the crisis is yet to deescalate. Today, seven people got injured near Odessa when an explosion occurred at a roadblock. On Thursday 24 April at least two separatists died when Ukrainian commandos raided pro-Russian checkpoints around the town of Sloviansk.
On Thursday the Ukrainian government also said that it had retaken control of the city hall in the south-eastern city of Mariupol, but BBC journalists at the scene found no evidence of Ukrainian security services having entered the building.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said that Russia wanted to start “World War Three” by occupying Ukraine "militarily and politically" and creating a conflict that would spread to the rest of Europe. "At the state level, Russia is supporting terrorism in our country," Ukraine's acting president Oleksander Turchinov, said in a national address on Thursday. "Armed criminals have taken over buildings, are taking citizens, Ukrainian and foreign journalists, hostage and murdering Ukrainian patriots."
US Secretary of State John Kerry accused Russia of "distraction, deception and destabilisation" in eastern Ukraine. He called on Moscow to help defuse the crisis or face further sanctions. 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 deescalate, the US was ready to impose further sanctions.
Next to accusing Russia, Kerry praised the interim authorities in Kiev, saying they had honoured the agreement struck in Geneva on 17 April to deescalate the crisis. The Geneva agreement was reached between the US, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union and called for armed pro-Russian bands to give up the government buildings they have seized in eastern Ukraine and outlines other steps to deescalate the crisis.
In St Petersburg, President Vladimir Putin said it is a very serious crime against their own people when the authorities in Kiev use the army in eastern Ukraine. "It is just a punitive operation and it will of course incur consequences for the people making these decisions, including (an effect) on our interstate relations," Putin said in a televised meeting with regional media, Reuters reports.
Russia has ordered new military exercises on its border with Ukraine in response to an operation by Kiev against pro-Russian separatists. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow had been "forced to react" after Ukrainian commandos moved on the separatist stronghold of Sloviansk. The exercises will be in Russia's southern and western military districts. The Kremlin, which says it has the right to invade its neighbour to protect Russian speakers, has built up forces - estimated by NATO at up to 40,000 troops - on Ukraine's 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.
Ukraine's acting President, Oleksander Turchynov, called on Russia to pull back its troops from the border and end what he called its "blackmail", adding that Kiev would not yield to "Russian-backed terrorists".
A contingent of US troops has begun landing in Poland for military exercises amid concerns among NATO's eastern member states about Russia's intentions. NATO and the United States have made clear they will not use military force to protect Ukraine itself.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement saying he was "seriously concerned that the situation could quickly spin out of control with consequences we cannot predict". He added that "military action must be avoided at all costs".
So far, the United States and the EU have taken only mild action against Moscow, imposing visa bans and asset freezes on a few Russians, measures Moscow has scoffed at as meaningless. Washington and Brussels both say they are drafting more serious sanctions and will impose them if the Geneva deal collapses.
Moscow responded by suggesting that foreign firms that pull out may not be able to get back in. According to Reuters, a source at Gazprom said the Russian gas exporter had slapped an additional 11.4 billion bill on Kiev. Ukraine is negotiating to reverse east-west pipelines so that it can receive gas from Europe if Moscow cuts it off.
By Merel Berkelmans
Sources: European Forum, Unian, Reuters, BBC, New York Times
Photo: Reuters/Marko Djurica