UKRAINE CRISIS DEEPENS AS ACTIVISTS DECLARE INDEPENDENCE IN DONETSK
PRELUDE TO WORLD WAR III?
The crisis in the Ukraine deepened, Monday, as the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk reportedly declared itself independent from the central government in Kiev and set a date for a referendum on joining Russia, according to local media reports, and the reputable British News organization, The Independent..
The announcement comes after pro-Russian protestors stormed and took control of a state security building in the city on Sunday, seizing weapons and shutting entrances.
“Unknown people who are in the building have broken into the building’s arsenal and have seized weapons,” Reuters reported, citing a statement released by the local police.
The information was relayed to reporters outside by activists, who have barricaded the government buildings in anticipation of attempts by police to retake them.
Donetsk is the administrative centre of Ukraine’s heavily industrialised eastern region, the Donbas. The building of its Regional State Administration was seized last night by protesters chanting “Russia, Russia” and waving Russian flags.
It was not immediately clear how far the protesters had the support of Donetsk’s legitimate regional leadership, but Mr Yatsenyuk blamed Russia for “destabilising” the region, referencing the reportedly vast accumulation of Russian troops stationed within 30km (19 miles) of the border.
In Washington, the U.S. said any move by Russia into eastern Ukraine would be a “very serious escalation” that could bring further sanctions. White House spokesman Jay Carney said there was strong evidence that some of the pro-Russian protesters in Ukraine were paid and were not local residents.
At the same time, the U.S. announced that Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with top diplomats from Russia, Ukraine and the European Union in a new push to ease tensions. The meeting, the first such four-way talks since the crisis erupted, will take place in the next 10 days, the State Department said.
The Russian news agency Itar Tass reported that “members of the regional legislature” had moved to declare the city and its surrounds the Donetsk People’s Republic.
The Ukrainian prime minister denounced the creation of a separatist state, describing it as part of a Russian plan to invade the east of the country.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk told an emergency meeting of cabinet: “An anti-Ukrainian plan is being put into operation … under which foreign troops will cross the border and seize the territory of the country.”
He added: “We will not allow this.”
In a series of developments which appear to show Donetsk following in the footsteps of Crimea, men purporting to be politicians at a session of the regional council said they had passed a piece of legislation entitled “An Act on State Sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic”.
In the same session, legislators were also said to have passed a decision in favour of holding a referendum on joining the Russian federation, to be held “no later than 11 May”.
According to Itar Tass, the document sealing its independence will see Donetsk “build its relations in line with international law and on the basis of equality and mutual benefits”.
It added that “the territory of the republic within the recognized borders is indivisible and inviolable”
His comments came as officials said a Russian marine had shot and killed a Ukrainian naval officer in eastern Crime
In response on Monday afternoon, Russia’s foreign ministry issued a statement calling for Kiev to stop blaming Moscow for the ongoing crisis.
“Stop nodding at Russia, blaming all the troubles of today’s Ukraine on it,” it read, while also repeating demands for Ukraine to devolve further powers to its various regions.
Ukraine’s interior ministry said that on Sunday armed gunmen had occupied a security services building in Luhansk, a city some 25km (16 miles) west of Russia.
And the provincial government buildings of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, were reportedly also stormed briefly before being retaken.
On Monday, the German government said it was “very worried” about the weekend’s developments across eastern Ukraine.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said: “The latest developments in Donetsk and in Kharkiv are something which we are all very worried about in the German government.
“We must urgently renew our appeal to all those in positions of responsibility to help stabilise the region and avoid such escalation.”
Pro-Russian protesters clashed with police and stormed government buildings in three different Eastern Ukrainian cities. In Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv, the demonstrators demanded a regional referendum on leaving Ukraine and joining Russia.
They waived Russian flags in the three cities and in Donetsk the protesters called for a “people’s city council” to be formed.
At least three people were injured in Luhansk, where police used tear gas to clear protesters who stormed a security building to try to break 15 pro-Russian demonstrators free. Photos from the protests show demonstrators breaking off the sign on a Ukrainian state security building.
In Donetsk, according to a police spokesman, 1,000 people took part in the storming of the regional government building. He said 100 people are occupying the building. President Viktor Yanukovych fled Donetsk, a pro-Russian stronghold in eastern Ukraine, after he was ousted from power in Kiev.
In Kharkiv, police refused to use force to break up the crowd and moved away once pro-Russian supporters took control of the regional government seat. Kharkiv is the second-largest city in Ukraine with a population of 1.5 million people, most of them pro-Russian supporters.
Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk are each within 40 miles of the Russian border, where up to 40,000 Russian troops are stationed. Some say the Russians are planning to invade eastern Ukraine much like they invaded Crimea, but the Russian government has strongly denied that.
Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Russian President Vladimir Putin and ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych were behind the unrest. Avakov accused them of “ordering and paying for another wave of separatist turmoil in the country’s east.”
Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, canceled plans to go to Lithuania and called an emergency meeting with security chiefs to respond to the unrest. Ukrainian state security said they arrested 15 and confiscated a number of explosives and weapons in Luhansk on Saturday.