THE Ukrainian government has declared a truce with pro-Russian separatists over the Easter weekend – just days after preparing to mount a major anti-terrorist operation to expel armed militants from public buildings in its eastern provinces.
The decision came as the United States threatened Moscow with new sanctions if it fails to persuade the pro-Russian militants to surrender.
The Kremlin denies having control over gunmen who want their eastern regions to follow Crimea in being annexed by Russia.
Moscow scolded Washington for treating Russia like a “guilty schoolboy” following their agreement in Geneva on Thursday that militants should disarm and vacate occupied Ukrainian buildings.
Ukraine’s government – short of effective troops – has shown little sign of trying to recapture the dozen or so town halls, police stations and other sites seized over the past two weeks, despite proclaiming the launch of an “anti-terrorist operation”.
The foreign ministry has promised “the suspension of the active phase of the anti-terrorist operation” among a list of government initiatives to defuse the crisis.
The SBU state security service said yesterday that the suspension was “linked to the implementation of the Geneva agreement and the Easter holidays”.
“We will not be using force against them at this moment,” foreign minister Andriy Deshchytsia told News. On Friday he warned the militants that “more concrete actions” could be taken this week if they failed to start surrendering to international peace monitors.
Deshchytsia yesterday met officials in Kiev from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), a security body that includes both Nato members and Russian representatives.
OSCE will oversee implementation of the Geneva accord, under which Russia, Ukraine, the US and European Union agreed to a process of disarmament and an end to occupations as part of a wider programme to defuse the gravest East-West crisis since the end of the Cold War.
OSCE officials headed to Donetsk, the biggest city in the Russian-speaking east. However, they said there is no indication from militants there that they have the “political will” to give up.
On Friday, separatist leaders said Russia’s signature on the Geneva deal was not binding on them. After weeks of bitter mutual recriminations, Vladimir Putin held out the prospect of better relations with the West yesterday, but the Russian president told Rossiya television it would depend on concessions from his adversaries in the crisis over Ukraine. Russia denies preparing to invade, despite massing thousands of troops on the border. The Kremlin yesterday claimed troops were there as a precaution against any spillover of violence.
President Barack Obama’s administration made clear on Friday that Russia must prevail on sympathisers in Ukraine to end the sit-ins within days or face graver economic sanctions than limited measures imposed after the seizure of Crimea.
Moscow says its interest is only to protect its borders and Russian speakers in Ukraine from “fascists” and others who overthrew president Viktor Yanukovich after he sparked months of protests by rejecting closer ties with the EU.