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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by: marc from: Columbus,oh
April 14, 2014 10:19 PM
Russia did'nt enterfear when the U.S.A Invaded small defenceless country's,helped Isreal be the Nukeler power in the middle east,stop policeing the world,you can't kill everyone you don't like
In Response

by: Arakan from: Serbia
April 14, 2014 11:59 PM
actually, Israel is an incredible melting-pot for Russians, Americans, Pols, Canadians, Serbians, Czechs, Ukrainians, Chinese, Japanese, Philippines... Israel is just like NYC. - incredible...!!! - its true.

by: Leigh Ratiner from: Reno, Nevada
April 14, 2014 10:10 PM
Putin is forcing our hand. He is an imperialist and bully who seeks to re-claim the glory days of the USSR. He understands nothing but force. Diplomacy is not an option. I am a professional mediator. However, mediations can only be accomplished when both sides realize the negative consequences of a failure to agree. In this case Putin will see how far he can push Obama all the way to Russia's original USSR borders if we let him. There is no solution to this fundamental change in global maneuvering by a bully with nukes. Face him down. Collect US troops in double the numbers of Putin's troops and put them face to face with his troops on the Ukrainian border. We must find out if he is willing to go the whole distance. If he is, so be it. If he isn't we can use diplomacy. I'm no warmonger. I opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and even Viet Nam. Those wars were stupid and established nothing of principle with a nuclear power. This is what we should be saving up our muscle for. I know a hundred reasons not to follow my recommendation. However, are we ready to tolerate an expansionist USSR and the loss of all of Eastern Europe. Are we looking for the return of the cold war? Should Putin be grinning like a cheshire cat as he plays chess with the map? I am a pacifist and I say know. You must stand up and threaten until sensible choices are made by the bully.
In Response

by: Anonymous
April 15, 2014 9:42 AM
Where are you getting your one sided opinions from? The so-called government in charge of Kiev came to rule by intimidation,not election. The Ukraine is a mix of cultures and the east fears the isolation and lack of political representation in the current Kiev environment, so they are understandably upset and rebellious.

by: Som1 from: anywhere
April 14, 2014 7:52 PM
fortunately right now Russia has a weak leader, I can not imagine if it was Stalin, because the USA wouldn't even try to put a mcdonalds in ukraine
RussiaToday has some interesting videos of how Arseniy Yatsenyuk changed his opinions about the European Union and the west, that freaky bald four-eyed cryptid opposed the EU and the West, and now he supports it?

In Response

by: William Adam from: New York
April 15, 2014 7:56 AM
Russiatoday is Russian propaganda I used to watch that news and thought that was the only "true news" but then they started to make up crap about Ukraine .

by: Lonewolf from: NC
April 14, 2014 6:29 PM
Russia had better watch out Obama is likely to whip out his Red Line Marker

by: meanbill from: USA
April 14, 2014 5:49 PM
IF anybody looks at these protesters and see's Russian troops, they have either never been in the military, or don't have an idea how uniformly dressed the Russian, or any other military is? -- Mismatched uniforms, and a few (helmet liners), makes a sorry group of men and women, playing army.. and talk of arming the ultra-right-wing extremists is just a US ploy, or an act of lunacy....

by: Kenneth Okpeki from: Nigeria
April 14, 2014 5:46 PM
From what we can see,Nelly Shtepa,the Mayor of Slavyansk has been rejuvenated to pass the Donetsk Regional People's Militia,your friend.Kenneth Okpeki an ex-student of the London School of Management in the United Kingdom

by: Kenneth Okpeki from: Nigeria
April 14, 2014 5:46 PM
From what we can see,Nelly Shtepa,the Mayor of Slavyansk has been rejuvenated to pass the Donetsk Regional People's Militia,your friend.Kenneth Okpeki an ex-student of the London School of Management in the United Kingdom

by: adam from: canada
April 14, 2014 2:42 PM
I dont get it. Ukraine is the 4th largest arms exporter in the world. How is it they need help being armed? makes no sense.
In Response

by: digital4u2 from: us
April 15, 2014 6:03 AM
Makes sense when US sees the EU and Russia getting too friendly. Close enough to devalue the reserve buck? Some think, they have to keep the world insecure.

by: Richard McDonough from: Irvine CA USA
April 14, 2014 2:33 PM
Jusst what we don't need. Ukraine asking for UN peacekeeping forces is sensible. Our doing yet another proxy war does not.
In Response

by: Bahram Abedi from: Malaysia
April 14, 2014 11:45 PM
May be that's a better way to ensure 'every body's' interests addressed. I am just longing for the less felt American high moral grounds these days. Longing the America I know n dream of, now. ..
The world needs that kind of leadership that addresses not only 'immediate' short term interests, but the long term interests of Americans and the rest of the world. No other power but US can do that.

by: Patrick c Fogarty from: Chattanooga , Tn. 37412
April 14, 2014 2:00 PM
Arming the opposition or the established leadership has a high rate of failure . It is a gamble not worth the cost.!!
In Response

by: Bahram Abedi from: Malaysia
April 14, 2014 11:22 PM
True! Its funny when Obama and Putin agree on 'diplomatic' solution but assistant of secretary Carry plays with the idea of 'arming' a government that its legitimacy is at best 'questionable'!
But then, it follows the general pattern: 'I give you Loan Gurantee, you spendit on arms that I supply, and go and kill each other'!
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