– Ukraine launches anti-terror operation against pro-Russian forces (FOX News, April 15, 2014):
Ukraine’s acting president said Tuesday that a military operation to quash a pro-Russian insurgency has started in eastern Ukraine after more than a week of seizures of government building in the latest standoff to grip the country.
Oleksandr Turchynov said the “anti-terrorist” operation began in the early morning hours in the northern Donetsk region, where the majority of the pro-Russian forces are located, The Wall Street Journal reported.
“Overnight, an antiterrorist operation began in the north of Donetsk. But it will be phased, responsible and balanced. The purpose of the actions, I stress once again, is to protect the citizens of Ukraine,” Turchynov told Ukraine’s parliament, according to Interfax.
“The plans of the Russian Federation were and remain brutal. They want not only for Donbass (Donetsk region), but for the whole south and east of Ukraine to be engulfed by fire,” Turchynov continued. The aim of the operation is to “defend the citizens of Ukraine, to stop terror, stop crime and stop attempts to tear our country into pieces,” he said.
Over the past 10 days, more than a dozen government offices in 10 eastern Ukraine cities have been taken over by pro-Russian forces, with most of the seizures following the same pattern. Aggressive gangs, sometimes carrying firearms and wearing military fatigues, storm the buildings. The Ukrainian flag is replaced with a Russian one.
The insurgents are demanding broader autonomy and closer ties with Russia. The central government has so far been unable to rein in the separatists, as many of the local security forces have switched to their side.
In the city of Horlivka, the local police station has been seized by separatists. Outside, a sign pinned to the wall of tires listed items required by protesters, including blankets, drinking water and tape to cover up windows smashed during the storming of the building. Anatoly Zhurov, a 53-year old Horlivka resident participating in the defense of the site, said their goal was to resist the government in Kiev.
Russia strongly warned Kiev against using force against the separatists, saying Moscow could walk out of an international conference devoted to the Ukrainian crisis scheduled for Thursday.
“If force is used in southeastern Ukraine, chances of holding this meeting in Geneva would be undermined,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference Tuesday after talks with Chinese Foreign Minster Wang Yi.
If no progress is made at the conference, European Union leaders could meet as early as next week to decide on tighter sanctions on Russia.
In Kiev, two pro-Russian politicians were attacked by pro-Western activists. Oleh Tsaryov, a pro-Russian lawmaker and a candidate in the May 25 presidential elections, was beaten by dozens of enraged activists in the early hours of Tuesday as he was leaving a television studio. The activists pelted him with eggs, shouted insults and then assaulted him.
Tsaryov’s press service said in a statement that he was “brutally beaten.”
Another Russian-leaning politician and presidential hopeful, Mikhaylo Dobkin, was sprayed with a green disinfectant and had flour thrown at him late Monday.
Moscow accused Kiev authorities of condoning such radicalism and said the attacks proved that presidential elections will not be fair or democratic.
Russia has tens of thousands of troops massed along Ukraine’s eastern border. Western governments accuse Moscow of fueling the unrest and worry that the specter of bloodshed could be used as a pretext for a Russian invasion, in a repeat of events in Crimea a few weeks ago.
Eyewitnesses have reported multiple sightings of camouflaged militia similar to those seen in Crimea before that peninsula’s annexation and which are widely believed to have been following order from Moscow.
“These armed units … raised Russian and separatist flags over seized buildings and have called referendums and union with Russia,” U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said during a U.N. Security Council session Sunday. “We know who is behind this.”
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev declared Ukraine on the brink of civil war after at least two people died on Sunday when Kiev unsuccessfully tried to regain control in Slavyansk, Reuters reported.
“Blood has once again been spilt in Ukraine. The country is on the brink of civil war,” he said in a statement posted on his Facebook page.
On Monday, Turchyonov called for the deployment of United Nations peacekeeping troops in the east of his country. He said the presence of Russian meddling was clear in the unrest gripping his country.
“The Russian Federation is sending special units to the east of our country, which seize administrative buildings with the use of weapons and are putting the lives of hundreds of thousands of our citizens in danger,” Turchynov said, according to the presidential web-site.
Peacekeepers, however, would have to be authorized by the U.N. Security Council, where Russia holds a veto.
Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula last month after local residents voted overwhelming to secede from Ukraine and seek to join Russia in a hastily called referendum.
The United Nations said in a report released Tuesday on the human rights situation in Ukraine that corruption, a lack of independence of the judiciary and a lack of free elections were among the root causes of popular protests that took place in Ukraine from November to February.
The report said 121 people — the majority of them protesters — died during the protests and there were also numerous accounts of torture and ill-treatment of protesters.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also reported that in Crimea it found credible allegations of harassment, arbitrary arrests and torture targeting activists and journalists who did not support the March 16 referendum.
The report is based on the findings of Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic.