Wednesday 30 April 2014

Ukraine update - 04/29.2014

Kiev government powerless as east Ukraine slips out of its control

Pro-Russian crowd storms regional HQ in Luhansk while Donetsk looks likely to declare autonomy after May vote

Ukraine's beleaguered government appeared to have lost control of law and order in the east of the country on Tuesday, after police again failed to stop a pro-Russian crowd from seizing a key administrative building.

Some 3,000 activists – some in masks and military fatigues – stormed the regional government HQ in the eastern city of Luhansk. Police supposed to guard the building let the crowd inside. A pro-Russian militia had occupied the security service office in Luhansk, a town of 465,000, just 20 miles (32km) from the Russian border.

The unwillingness of security structures to defend public buildings from separatist occupation has been a theme in eastern Ukraine since early April. Supporters of the "Donetsk People's Republic" have taken over a string of city halls and police stations. An armed unit from Crimea – led by an alleged Russian colonel – has also established a de facto military capital in the town of Slavyansk.

But in recent days Kiev's tentative grip on local law enforcement in the east appears to have slipped completely. In Luhansk riot police stood passively in a courtyard, kettled in by separatists armed with bats and hammers. "The regional leadership does not control its police force," Stanislav Rechynsky, an aide to the interior minister in Kiev, told Reuters. "The local police did nothing."

In a statement on Tuesday, Ukraine's interim president, Oleksandr Turchynov, said: "The vast majority of law enforcement officials in the east are not able to fulfil their obligation to protect our citizens."

On Monday in Donetsk another contingent of riot police in full battle gear had looked on as pro-Russian thugs attacked a peaceful pro-unity rally. The separatists beat Ukraine supporters with iron rods. Fourteen people needed hospital treatment. Two were seriously injured. The mob also took five hostages: supporters of the city's Shakhtar Donetsk football team, who had formed a protective cordon at the front of the rally. The five were taken to an office near Donetsk's occupied regional administration. They were eventually released on Tuesday.

Later on Tuesday, seven or eight police officers in light blue uniforms stood outside the office where the hostages had been kept. The scene was peaceful. A few feet away volunteers from the "Donetsk People's Republic", dressed in military fatigues, guarded the entrance. They wore orange and black ribbons, the symbols of the "republic's" anti-Kiev revolution. The two groups appeared to be on friendly terms.

Asked if the police had gone over to the separatists, the captain in charge, Yevgeny, said: "Among the police there are different opinions. Obviously our job is to uphold the law and apply it neutrally."

The "republic" has announced its own self-organised referendum on the region's future status, to be held on 11 May. "I don't make any secret of the fact that I'm for a referendum," Yevgeny added. Another policeman chipped in: "We'll take part. Personally I'm for Russia".

The police were reluctant to talk about the bloody events of the previous night, when they failed to protect civilians from attack. But one officer who was there said: "This situation is all Kiev's fault. They say we in the east are slaves, half-humans. They revere people like Stepan Bandera [the second world war Ukrainian nationalist leader] who shot our brothers. We are normal citizens like everyone else."

Standing next to their patrol car, still striped with Ukraine's blue and yellow colours, the officers reeled off a list of grievances. These included low pay – $200-$250 (£120) a month. (One policewoman, Svetlana, said: "I'm supposed to give my life for this. Who is going to come to my mother afterwards and say "thanks for your daughter?") They also complained that a mistrustful Kiev had confiscated their service revolvers three weeks ago. "I can't exactly defend myself," Yevgeny said, showing off his empty holster.

The captain said he was one of 400 Donetsk region police officers sent to the capital to deal with anti-Yanukovych demonstrations, which began last November. The experience had left him bitterly disillusioned. He had nothing but contempt for the new government, part-formed from the protest movement, he said. Other officers who had not been in Kiev repeated claims made by Russian TV that the Maidan protesters were paid narco-maniacs, and unemployed "fascists".

The police even had sympathy for pro-Russian gunmen in Slavyansk, who are holding 40 people prisoner, including seven European military observers. One officer said: "Kiev started all this by arresting our activists. They [in Slavyansk] are merely defending their rights."

The US embassy in Kiev said on Tuesday the abduction of the OSCE inspectors and the attack on demonstrators by pro-Russian thugs in Donetsk on Monday were acts of "terrorism".

"There is no place for these examples of inhuman behaviour in a modern, democratic society. This is terrorism, pure and simple," it said in a statement.

On Tuesday the EU followed the US in widening sanctions, naming a further 15 people it is targeting because of their roles in the Ukraine crisis. The list included General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian general staff and first deputy defence minister, and Lieutenant General Igor Sergun, identified as the head of GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, dismissed the new sanctions. "We reject the sanctions … imposed by the United States and the European Union against all common sense, in relation to the events in Ukraine."

One pro-Russian activist, 39-year-old Igor Vasilyovich, said at least half of the local police supported the cause. "They understand that without Russia we can't live properly," he said. Igor admitted that not everybody in Donetsk – population one million – was an enthusiast for the new unelected "republic". "We're the active minority. We'll lead the passive majority," he said. But what if the "republic" didn't succeed? "Then we'll start a partisan war," he replied.

Serhiy Taruta, the new governor sent by Kiev to head the Donetsk region, admits that the police and security services in the east are not doing their job. His officials attribute this to what they call "post-Maidan syndrome".

Many were sent to the capital, and were told that the protesters in Kiev were their enemies. Now back in the east, the same enemies are running the country. They are also unsure whether Viktor Yanukovych – the president who fled to Russia – might come back again.

One official said: "They [the police in the east] feel a mental fight over who is their master. The problem is they are not sure if it is Kiev, or Yanukovych and his family. We've had a lot of conversations with commanders and officers. They are people from here, and they feel angry and afraid."

The official said the Donetsk police were acutely aware that the Russian police salary was $2,000 – 10 times higher than their own. They also regarded the Berkut riot police – disbanded for their alleged role in the shooing of Maidan protesters – as local heroes. The Donetsk police chief Konstantin Pozhidaev was doing all he could, the official said, conceding: "It will take more time to achieve meaningful order."

With a separatist referendum looming, Donetsk's pro-Kiev administrators have little time left. Much of the region is unlikely to vote, but that will probably not deter the "People's Republic" from declaring an overwhelming victory. One self-appointed "deputy", Anatoly Aneshenko, said on Tuesday the oblast or region was certain to declare autonomy.

What would happen to those who opposed this outcome? "Well, they can leave," he said.

Anti-Kiev protesters take control of govt buildings in Lugansk Region, east Ukraine

29 April, 2014

Anti-government protesters have taken control of the regional administration building and prosecutor’s office in the city of Lugansk, eastern Ukraine. Protests continue as the deadline for the protesters’ ultimatum to the government expired.
For more videos and photos from the scene, follow RT’s stringer Graham Phillips on Twitter

The building is ours. That’s it,” local protest leader Oleg Dereko told RIA Novosti.
A regional administration building has been taken by storm,” an activist who asked not to be named has told RT. “A coordination committee and militia are now inside and are getting ready for an emergency meeting.”

The Ukrainian flag on the building has been replaced with Russia's tricolor.
Another activist, who said he is now inside the regional administration office, has told RT that the building was seized without using any weapons. He has said that anti-government protesters are now negotiating with armed police, who activists blocked in the back yard, in order to persuade them to surrender their weapons and leave.
A small group of guards barricaded themselves in one of the corridors of the building, according to footage from the scene. The protesters convinced them to leave.

The protesters, some of them armed with clubs and metal shields, have spread throughout the building.
No injuries or violence were reported during the takeover.
"There are no injured. We are peaceful people,” Dereko said.

The police guards from the building have gathered in the courtyard. They are standing holding their shields, while protesters, who are also present there, cheering them for not confronting the activists with violence.

Fortifications quickly moved into place at government building in central #Lugansk,v few police still in building now
GrahamWPhillips (@GrahamWP_UK) April 29, 2014

Protesters rallied towards the regional administration building when none of the officials responded to their ultimatum to local government issued on Sunday. The people are demanding amnesty for all political prisoners, the holding of a referendum and making Russian also an official language.
"We waited till 14:00 local time, the time we expected the reply by. No answer was received. Kiev has completely ignored our demands,” Oleg Dereko told RIA Novosti.

Aleksey Uskoryakin, another protest leader, said the take-over was not planned. The protesters wanted to hold a rally and send a delegation to talk to regional MPs, but they were absent in the building. Emotions got the better of the situation, resulting in seizure of the building, in which several windows were broken.
RIA Novosti / Vitaly Belousov
RIA Novosti / Vitaly Belousov

The protesters are contemplating a possible release of the building, if the governor and lawmakers agree to negotiate.”

Activists estimate there are over 3, 000 people remain outside the building and more continue to arrive.
There are over 3,000 people on the square. People are arriving; the square is filling up with people. The governor has not come out yet and no announcements have been made. Everyone is waiting for a response on the ultimatum, the deadline has passed already,” Dereko told the news agency.

Several hundred protesters then moved to the local prosecutor’s office, which they seized shortly after.
According to media estimates, some 700 people approached the building and started hurling stones, breaking windows and knocking down doors. It took them ten minutes to get inside, Interfax news agency reported.
The agency stressed that no law enforcement officers were at the scene.

Putin: Washington behind Ukraine events all along, though flying low 
The US has been behind the Ukrainian crisis from the beginning, but was initially flying low, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said. He added that if sanctions continue, Russia will have to reconsider who has access to key sectors if its economy.

29 April, 2014

I think what is happening now shows us who really was mastering the process from the beginning. But in the beginning, the United States preferred to remain in the shadow,” Putin said, as quoted by RIA Novosti.

Putin stated that since the US has taken a lead role in resolving the political crisis in Ukraine, it is “telling that they originally were behind this process, but now they just have emerged as leaders” of it.

The "Maidan cookies" policy paves the way to a broader crisis, Putin warned, referring to US officials showing up in central Kiev and encouraging protesters during demonstrations.

It is necessary to understand that the situation is serious and try to find serious approaches to the solution,” he said.

Putin said that he has called on Kiev to start an all-Ukrainian dialogue, adding that other countries should not be blamed for the crisis.

[They should] treat equally the rights of those living in other areas of Ukraine, first of all, I mean, the east and southeast, establish a dialogue, find a compromise," he told journalists while speaking about the measures necessary to put an end to the crisis. “Here's what you need to do; searching for the guilty outside Ukraine is wrong.”

Regarding the last row of sanctions imposed on Russia by the US and the EU, Vladimir Putin said he sees no need for counter sanctions.

"We would very much wish not to resort to any measures in response," he told reporters. "But if something like that continues, we will of course have to think about who is working in the key sectors of the Russian economy, including the energy sector, and how."

At the same time, the US and EU sanctions will not harm the Eurasian integration process, which is meant to lead to the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union, based on a Customs Union and common economic space among Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, he said.

Video: US deploys troops to Estonia

The US airborne division, which is to take part in NATO exercise 'Spring Storm' in May arrived in Estonia. Around 150 personnel arrived in the military transport aircraft to the Amari airbase, according to the country's defense ministry. -

Donetsk violence video: Tension, anger, brutality unleashed on east Ukraine city streets

Pro- and-anti-Kiev protest rallies took place simultaneously in the city. The police failed to contain the crowd as protesters clashed with each other, using firecrackers, smoke grenades, baseball bats and sticks.

From yesterday - 

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