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Thursday, February 27, 2014

U.S. Warns Russia on Ukraine-- BBC


Ukraine crisis: US urges restraint and warns it is 'watching Russia'

Pro-Russian demonstrators have pushed through police lines in Simferopol, says Mark Lowen
The US has called for all sides to "step back and avoid any kind of provocations" amid heightened tensions in Ukraine's Crimea region.

Secretary of State John Kerry said he had spoken to his Russian counterpart who promised to respect Ukraine's "territorial integrity".

But he warned Moscow needed to back up its words with actions.

Earlier, pro-Russian armed men stormed Crimea's local parliament, while Russia has been conducting military exercises.

The ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych also reportedly surfaced in Russia, having gone to ground after he was voted out of office by MPs last week.

Analysis

It feels as though President Putin has thrown down a gauntlet to the new government in Kiev.
Perhaps scrambling Russian fighter jets, granting asylum to Viktor Yanukovych or tacitly backing the takeover by local Russians of Crimean government buildings do not appear to be connected.
But taken together, these events seem to add up to a message that Russia has the power to make life difficult for the victors in Kiev and is not prepared to be taken for granted.

What Russia says it wants, however, seems quite unrealistic. Its foreign ministry argued that the best way out of Ukraine's crisis and the Crimean stand-off would be to go back to the compromise agreement signed last week.

But that would seem to mean President Yanukovych returning to power.

Russia also wants reforms to suit all regions of the country, including - presumably - that referendum on Crimean autonomy.

Russia says it wants to keep Ukraine united, is prepared to collaborate and won't intervene militarily.
But how far is it prepared to ratchet up the confrontation if the new government in Kiev, or the West, object to its proposals?
Ukrainian media said he arrived in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don early on Friday, where he is due to give a news conference. 

He issued a statement on Thursday saying he still considers himself the legitimate president of Ukraine.

A new interim government - including Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk - was approved by parliament earlier on Thursday.

Fleet warning
 
Mr Kerry said he had spoken to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and "asked specifically that Russia work with the United States and our friends and allies in order to support Ukraine to rebuild unity, security and a healthy economy".

Mr Lavrov, he said, had insisted the snap military exercises ordered by President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday were unrelated to events in Ukraine and also said Moscow was "concerned" by the stand-off in the Crimean parliament. Russia has also scrambled jets to monitor its borders.
He said Mr Lavrov also reaffirmed Mr Putin's statement that Russia "will respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine".

But Mr Kerry said words were not enough. "We have all learned that it's actions and the follow-on choices that make the greatest difference," he said, in a joint news conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Other Western leaders and Nato had earlier expressed their concern at the unfolding events in Crimea.
Ukrainian interim President Olexander Turchynov warned Russia that any movement of its Black Sea Fleet beyond its base in Crimea would be seen as "military aggression".

Watch a short history of the Republic of Crimea

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Lavrov confirmed Russia would work with the West but warned foreign powers against taking decisions on behalf of Ukrainians.

He stressed the need to implement an EU-brokered peace deal agreed between Mr Yanukovych and opposition parties before his departure from office last week.

Ukraine's media reaction

"The dirty fingerprints of Russian President Vladimir Putin appear to be all over the tension and violence gripping the Crimean peninsula," says an editorial in Ukraine's leading English-language Kyiv Post newspaper.

"We need solutions which would satisfy everyone, lower the tensions and resolve the confrontation," writes Ivan Kapsamun in the centrist Day broadsheet.

"The main thing now for Kiev is not to be drawn into a violent conflict - this is exactly what the FSB (Russia's security service) wants to later justify the 'defence of the Russians'," Olexiy Haran argues in his blog on the pro-Maidan Ukrainska Pravda internet newspaper

"Such issues as the status of a republic, its independence, cannot and should not be decided by a majority principle. This should be resolved by consensus," thinks Yevhen Leshan in the Obozrevatel web resource.

However, the BBC's Bridget Kendall in Moscow says this appears to be quite an unrealistic prospect.
The uncertainty in Ukraine has sent its currency, the hryvnia, tumbling to a record low.

New Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Mr Yanukovych and his government of stripping the state coffers bare, telling parliament billions of dollars had been transferred to offshore accounts in the past three years.

The International Monetary Fund said it had received a request for assistance from the new government and would be sending a team to Kiev in the coming days.

Building seized
 
Tensions have been rising in traditionally Russian-leaning Crimea since Mr Yanukovych was ousted.
Early on Friday, a group of armed men in military dress reportedly descended on the airport in the regional capital of Simferopol, Interfax-Ukraine news agency says, quoting eyewitnesses.
In a separate incident on Thursday, unidentified armed men entered Crimea's parliament building by force and hoisted a Russian flag on the roof.

They were cheered by a handful of pro-Russian demonstrators who gathered round the building, despite a police cordon.

"We've been waiting for this moment for 20 years," the protest leader said. "We want a united Russia."

The men are believed to be still in the building, although it is not clear if they have made any demands or statements.

They did put up a sign reading "Crimea is Russia" and threw a flash grenade in response to questions from a journalist, AP news agency reported.

People march under a giant Russian flag in Simferopol, Crimea, on 27 February 2014 A crowd of pro-Russian protesters - some with a giant Russian flag - gathered outside the parliament building in Simferopol after it was seized by armed men
Ukrainian police officer outside a local government building in Simferopol, Crimea, on 27 February 2014 Despite the presence of police outside government buildings, the protesters met no resistance
A Russian flag (R) is raised next to a Crimean flag on top of the Crimean parliament building in Simferopol The armed men had stormed the parliament building overnight and hoisted the Russian flag
Giant Russian flag outside the Crimean parliament building in Simferopol on 27 February 2014 Crimea, Ukraine's most ethnically divided region, says it will hold a referendum in May for broader autonomous powers

Crimea

  • Autonomous republic within Ukraine
  • Transferred from Russia in 1954
  • Ethnic Russians - 58.5%*
  • Ethnic Ukrainians - 24.4%*
  • Crimean Tatars - 12.1%*
  • Source: Ukraine census 2001
On Wednesday the city saw clashes erupt between Ukrainians who support the change of government and pro-Russians.

Amid the rising tensions, the Crimean parliament announced it would hold a referendum on expanding the region's autonomy on 25 May.

Crimea - where ethnic Russians are in a majority - was transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954.
Ethnic Ukrainians loyal to Kiev and Muslim Tatars - whose animus towards Russia stretches back to Stalin's deportations during World War Two - have formed an alliance to oppose any move back towards Moscow.

Russia, along with the US, UK and France, pledged to uphold the territorial integrity of Ukraine in a memorandum signed in 1994.

Map of Ukraine