News / Europe

Obama, Putin Talk as Separatists Tighten Grip on East Ukraine

US, Europe Wary of Russian Actions, Pledge Support for Ukrainei
Jeff Seldin
April 14, 2014 11:57 PM
The intensifying violence in eastern Ukraine -- and fears of increased Russian involvement -- have gripped the attention of both the United States and Europe. Officials are now intensely working on a response to calm tensions across the region, even as President Barack Obama spoke again with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, about the crisis. VOA's Jeff Seldin reports from the Pentagon.
Related video report by Jeff Seldin
VOA News
Pro-Russia demonstrators on Monday defied a government deadline to vacate occupied buildings in exchange for amnesty, as Ukraine's interim president threatened a military crackdown.

Dozens of protesters smashed windows of the police headquarters in the eastern Ukrainian city of Horlivka and scuffled with police as they took control of the facility.  

Obama, Putin to continue diplomacy

Russian President Vladimir Putin urged U.S. President Barack Obama to discourage the Ukrainian government from using force against protesters.  

During a phone conversation Monday with Obama, the Russian leader denied claims of Russian agents' involvement in the protests as "speculations based on unreliable information.''  Putin said the protests vented public anger about the Ukrainian government's reluctance to recognize the interests of Russian speakers in the east.

The Kremlin said it had requested the call. The White House said the call was frank and direct.

The White House said Obama urged Russia to use its influence to get separatists in the country to stand down.

"The president emphasized that all irregular forces in the country need to lay down their arms, and he urged President Putin to use his influence with these armed, pro-Russian groups to convince them to depart the buildings they have seized," the White House said in a statement.

The two sides agreed to continue efforts to seek diplomatic cooperation in the context of the Ukrainian situation ahead of a four-party meeting (EU, Russia, U.S. and Ukraine) scheduled to take place in Geneva on April 17.

Demanding a referendum

The demonstrators are demanding a referendum on whether to split with Ukraine and join Russia - similar to last month's vote in Crimea.

Donetsk, a province with 4.3 million people - 10 percent of Ukraine's population - and much of its heavy industry, is the biggest prize of the eastern regions where pro-Russian separatists have captured government buildings in the past week.
  • A local resident talks to pro-Russian armed men standing guard outside the mayor's office in Slovyansk, Ukraine, April 14, 2014.
  • Pro-Russian protesters gather in front of the regional administration headquarters in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, April 14, 2014.
  • Pro-Russian protesters attend a rally in front of the seized office of the SBU state security service in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, April 14, 2014.
  • A clergyman addresses pro-Russian protesters during a rally in front of the seized office of the SBU state security service in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, April 14, 2014.
  • Activists cover their eyes and hold placards showing Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov during a rally in front of the ministry headquarters in Kyiv, April 14, 2014.
  • Pro-Russian men stand guard at a barricade near the police headquarters in Slovyansk, April 13, 2014.
  • Pro-Russia supporters beat a pro-Western activist during a pro-Russian rally in Kharkiv, Ukraine, April 13, 2014.
  • Interior Ministry members stand near men who were injured in clashes between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian supporters during rallies in Kharkiv, Ukraine, April 13, 2014.
  • Protesters hold a rally outside the mayor's office in Mariupol, Ukraine, April 13, 2014.
  • Pro-Russian men gather around a fire at a barricade near the police headquarters in Slovyansk, Ukraine, April 13, 2014.

Ukrainian leader Oleksandr Turchynov said he is not against a national referendum on what kind of country Ukraine should be.  He said he is certain a majority would support a united and independent Ukraine, possibly giving broader localized rights to the east.  He said such a vote could be held at the same time as the May 25 presidential election.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday he believes Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the eastern part of the country should be part of drafting a new constitution.

CIA visit

A White House spokesman said U.S. Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan was in the Ukrainian capital during the weekend, confirming reports in Russian media, but denying claims that the CIA encouraged Ukraine to use force on the separatists.

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt told VOA's Russian service that his greatest fear for the region is that the conflict devolves into greater violence, which the United States does not want.

"You have people in cities across eastern Ukraine, some of them heavily armed with Russian weapons including state-of-the art sniper rifles, Russian inventory automatic machine guns with grenade launchers. These are not peaceful protesters, this is an armed force. And I think there is a real risk that their actions could precipitate greater violence and any bloodshed of course is something that the United States will oppose," said Pyatt.

$1 billion for Ukraine

U.S. officials signed a $1 billion loan guarantee to Ukraine.  U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said the agreement demonstrates the United States' unwavering commitment to a stable Ukraine.  Ukrainian Finance Minister Oleksandr Shlapak said his country is wrapping up talks with the IMF on a comprehensive economic reform program.

The Pentagon also confirmed a Russian SU-24 fighter aircraft flew at least 12 close-range passes Saturday near a U.S. ship in the Black Sea.  A Pentagon spokesman said the USS Donald Cook was never in danger, but called the passes "provocative and unprofessional."  U.S. defense officials said the action is part of a pattern of Russia's unwillingness to deescalate with Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the White House has denied reports it is considering to provide arms for Ukrainian forces.

“We are looking at a variety of ways to demonstrate our strong support for Ukraine, including diplomatically and economically,'' White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

He added that “we are not actively considering lethal aid but we are reviewing the kinds of assistance we can provide.”

Chatter intercepted
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) says it has intercepted what it claims is chatter between separatists in eastern Ukraine and their Russian commanders.
The SBU published a recording of several alleged intercepts with transcriptions on its YouTube channel.
"[The intercepts] confirm that the Russian Federation is conducting a large-scale military aggression in eastern Ukraine...," says a statement the SBU published on its website.
The statement adds that the operation is being implemented by elite units of the Russian Armed Forces.
The SBU says that the objective of these units is to "terrorize local citizens, to sabotage planned talks between Ukraine, the U.S, the EU and Russia, and to destroy Ukrainian law enforcement [structures].”

EU agrees on more sanctions

European Union foreign ministers agreed on Monday to expand sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine by putting more people under asset freezes and visa bans, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

“We have agreed among foreign ministers to expand the sanctions... and to add further names to those sanctions,” Hague told reporters after a meeting in Luxembourg.

The EU has only taken a decision in principle to expand the list. There would now be “some rapid and important work on the exact numbers and names” of those to be added to the list, Hague said.

The EU ministers also formally approved an assistance package for cash-strapped Ukraine and a plan to provide temporary tariff preferences for Ukrainian goods.

Economic ripples

Russian stocks and the ruble fell sharply on Monday, reflecting fears of further Russian military intervention in Ukraine and more western sanctions against Moscow.

Kyiv is also facing economic disarray. The central bank nearly doubled its overnight interest rate to 14.5 percent from 7.5 percent. Ukraine's hryvnia currency has lost 38 percent of its value against the dollar this year.

Moscow has largely brushed off sanctions so far, which the U.S. and Europe have explicitly designed to target only a limited number of officials and avert wider economic harm. 

OSCE pushes dialogue

Didier Burkhalter, chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said on Monday the Ukrainian government would organize discussions on decentralization across the regions.

“We have discussed that this morning with the government [which] is ready to work closely for organizing roundtables in the regions immediately,” Burkhalter said during a news conference in Kyiv.

OSCE monitors have been assessing the situation in eastern Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk and Slovyansk. Burkhalter said the situation on the ground was tense.

“I'd like to call upon all sides to move the situation away from confrontation,” said Burkhalter adding that challenges must be tackled through inclusive and structured dialogue.

Some reporting by Reuters.

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Comment Sorting
Comments page of 4
by: xolile from: africa
April 15, 2014 4:11 PM
If USA and Nato member countries are so clever why should their allowed Russian Ukrainians to be killed if their refuse to support a western coup government.Beside this Russia has the right to support Russian origin civilians.One 5 million ton Tsar bomb is enough to quiet USA and Nato or two SS18 SATAN Misile with 11 war heads.Then coup supporters will cry for peace and betray each other.

by: Andreye from: Russia
April 15, 2014 2:17 PM
Putin is smarter or stupid? i think he is too stupid, because he create war game in his border country side. In Russia 60% Russian didn't like Communist and they want to liberate Russia to freedom too.

by: Robert E from: So Cal
April 15, 2014 2:15 PM
"No country should use its military against its own citizens" quote Obama

by: Brent from: California
April 15, 2014 1:49 PM
There is no longer any doubt that the Cold War is back after a thaw. The USA and the UK need to work together, as we did when Thatcher and Reagan were in office, and lead the world in containing Putin's Russia. I just hope the people of the two nations can show the fortitude and patience necessary to put the bear back in her cage.

The alliance between the two nations with the special relationship has been a powerful force for confronting despotic dictators in the past. No nation can stand against a unified UK / USA when our resolve is strong. It will take financial, political, and military pressure to teach Putin that his nation is not the superpower that he seems to think that it is. The USA and the UK can school Mr. Putin if they stand together as they have so effectively in the past.

by: lão khờ from: cờhoa
April 15, 2014 10:07 AM
Armed people who are occupying official buildings in East Ukrain
not belong to Russia Army.So, why Ukrain forces not to destroy
them right away in order to protect Ukrain from seperating into small
pieces. Go ahead ! Ukrain power!!!
In Response

by: Mice from: Canada
April 15, 2014 2:10 PM
Because if they did that, Russia will use it as an excuse and invade Eastern Ukraine.

However I agree with the assessment that Ukraine needs to pull its shit together and act as a sovereign nation.
They need to show that they are still in charge of their own borders.

by: MJB from: Lubbock
April 15, 2014 8:25 AM
If Russian speaking people so badly want to be a part of Russia, then why don't they move to Russia?
In Response

by: BSS from: NYC
April 15, 2014 4:19 PM
There's a reason (historically important) why there are so many Russian speaking people in that region. Perhaps, if we took some time to learn the history of that region, before making our assertions, we would better understand all the whys...
In Response

by: FF
April 15, 2014 3:33 PM
If English speaking people from Iran (they probably learned it) so badly want to be a part of USA(UK, put any other country), then why don't they move to USA?

by: Antonio
April 15, 2014 7:06 AM
When you calling people which stand against the goverment as terrorists... there just nothing to say. It's so much propaganda and single point of view from Western side.
If such protests take place in Europe, how they will be called? Terrorism?
Please try to be impersonal.

by: ramiz berisha from: new york - USA
April 15, 2014 6:20 AM

by: from: US
April 15, 2014 5:54 AM
What can 5 billion buy? Kyiv 2.

by: Leroy Padmore from: Jersey City
April 14, 2014 11:51 PM
What can Russia do to the US, UK, and the EU? Russia cannot fight the US alone? If the Russia get into a fight with the US. there ill be no Russia. If Russia fire Nuclear weapon at us, So help us all, Russia knows what await her. Mr. Putin is a modern day Hitler and he needs to be brought down. If he so bad enough, why he cannot come and cease the US as he did Ukraine? I don't blame him? when President Bush was in office, why Mr. Putin didn't try that nonsense? There is no military on this earth can fight or defeat the US. none, include so call Russia. But we are calling on the west to act against Russia aggression. Mr. Putin violence needs to stop.
In Response

by: Leroy Padmore from: Jersey City, NJ
April 16, 2014 1:07 AM
I dont care how much nuclear arsenal Russia has, she can never use it on the US, cuz if she does, She knows what lies ahead of her. If Russia hit the US, we will hit back harder, so help us all God.
In Response

by: Anonymous
April 15, 2014 3:41 PM
Russia has nuclear arm so there will no be live on Earth if USA and Russia start war! Think before say something!
Btw, Russia has a lot of resources.
In Response

by: Justin from: Chicago
April 15, 2014 2:26 PM
The answer is simple, but quit sad. Because Russia has no resources for us to take. If they had oil, I'm sure our government would be all over it.
Plus US & Russia have arms deal together. The displeasure from any US pres is all show, when they still have no problem buying/selling missiles from them.
In Response

by: Leon from: Cape Town, South Africa
April 15, 2014 2:09 PM
You forgot to mention that your mighty USA is the only country in the world which has dropped an atom bomb on another country.
In Response

by: Anonymous
April 15, 2014 7:30 AM
Putin did it when Bush was in power by invading Georgia and Bush did nothing about it.Its easy to start a war but its difficult to end it.See what is happening in Iraq today...The people are still suffering.
Comments page of 4

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