Saturday, May 3, 2014

Ukraine crisis: 'thousands' pleading for our help says Russia, as more clashes take place

Ukraine forces retake television tower in dawn raid in eastern region of Donetsk, but pro-Russian rebels free seven OSCE observers

Photo: EPA
Russia has received “thousands” of pleas for help from people inside Ukraine, the Kremlin said on Saturday, after the worst bloodshed inside its neighbour since the revolution in February.
With tens of thousands of Russian troops massed near Ukraine’s eastern frontier, violence of the kind that claimed about 40 lives in the port city of Odessa might provide Moscow with a reason to invade.
However, Russia used its influence to secure the release on Saturday of seven military observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), who had been held by pro-Kremlin rebels in the eastern town of Slavyansk.
The military officers – four Germans and one each from Denmark, Poland and the Czech Republic – were freed alongside five Ukrainians who were acting as their escort. They had spent eight days in captivity at the hands of pro-Russian insurgents who have de facto control over Slavyansk, a town of 100,000 people in Donetsk region.
Their release appears to have been brokered by Vladimir Lukin, an envoy from the Kremlin, who visited Slavyansk.
Nearby, however, the Ukrainian army resumed its attempt to restore Kiev’s control over Donetsk region. Arsen Avakov, the interior minister, said that government forces had seized back a television tower near the town of Kramatorsk in a dawn operation.
Ukrainian forces have also tried to seal off Slavyansk by capturing pro-Russian checkpoints on its perimeter. They have not yet attempted a full scale assault to retake the town.
All their decisions are taken under the shadow of Russia’s possible response. Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, denounced the bloodshed in Odessa, adding that “thousands” of “people are calling in despair, asking for help, the overwhelming majority demand Russian help. All these calls are reported to Vladimir Putin.”
But Mr Peskov said that Russia had not yet decided how to respond. “This element is absolutely new to us,” he said, according to the Interfax news agency. “Kiev and its Western sponsors are practically provoking the bloodshed and bear direct responsibility for it," added Mr Peskov.
Ukraine plans to hold a presidential election on May 25. The aim is to install a legitimate ruler after the downfall of Viktor Yanukovych, the fallen president, in the February Revolution. But Mr Peskov said that it would be “absurd” to hold an election under the current conditions of “military action, a punitive operation and mass killings”.

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