EU, NATO call on Russia to 'stop being part of the problem' in Ukraine

16/04/2014

After 10 days of on-going occupations and attacks on state institutions and government buildings in eastern Ukraine, an official in Kiev announces an "anti-terrorist" operation.

By Paul Ciocoiu and Alex Statko for Southeast European Times in Bucharest and Kiev -- 16/04/14

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Masked men dismantle Ukraine's state emblem from the regional state building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on Tuesday (April 15th). Kiev sent National Guard battalion troops to the Donetsk region on Tuesday to "stop terror" and "attempts to tear Ukraine to pieces." [AFP]

With Ukraine's legitimate government starting an "anti-terror" operation in the country's east, EU and NATO officials called on Russia "to pull back its troops from Ukraine's borders and "stop destabilising the situation in Ukraine."

According to Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council spokesperson Evgen Rojenyuk, National Guard battalion troops were sent to eastern Ukraine from Kiev on Tuesday morning (April 15th). He said the battalion was headed for the Donetsk region.

Ukraine's Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said the operation "will be conducted step-by-step, responsibly, cautiously."

"The aim of these actions is to protect the citizens of Ukraine, to stop terror, to stop criminality, to stop attempts to tear Ukraine to pieces," Turchynov told parliament on Tuesday.

At the same time, EU and NATO officials called on Russia to "de-escalate the crisis … and make clear that it doesn't support the violent actions of pro-Russian separatists."

"Russia should stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters before the meeting with EU defence ministers in Luxembourg on Tuesday.

He said the EU and NATO support a diplomatic solution of the issue, however, they are "focused militarily on strengthening defence of our allies. That's our core task."

Meanwhile, EU member states unanimously condemned the violent actions in eastern Ukraine, reaffirmed their support for the country's territorial integrity and decided to pass new sanctions in response to the situation on the ground where 10 cities are under the control of heavily armed pro-Kremlin groups.

"The European Union condemns actions undertaken by armed individuals in cities of eastern Ukraine. These attempts at destabilising Ukraine must come to an end," reads a joint declaration adopted at the end of the EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday (April 14th).

"The Council reiterates its strong support for Ukraine's unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, and calls upon Russia to do likewise and to repudiate the latest lawless acts in eastern Ukraine and to contribute to stabilise the situation."

Uniformed men equipped with modern weapons stormed the building of the Kramatorsk city police department of the Donetsk region on Monday (April 14th).

Brussels decided to expand the list of those subject to asset freeze and visa ban. Finally, the council approved measures to give Ukraine 1 billion euros in economic assistance and temporarily eliminated customs duties for Ukrainian exports to the EU.

On Monday, uniformed men equipped with modern weapons stormed a police station in the town of Horlivka. State institutions in Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, Artemivsk, Druzhkivka, Lugansk, Horlivka, Donetsk, Yenakiev, Makiyivk and Mariupol are now partially or totally controlled by separatist forces. One Ukrainian state security officer has been killed and five others wounded in fighting between gunmen and state security forces in the suburbs of Slaviansk, a town controlled by separatists.

In a joint statement, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande called on Russia to show commitment to dialogue and de-escalation. Speaking in Paris, German vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel pointed out that "Russia is clearly prepared to allow tanks to roll over European borders," in the harshest criticism yet against Moscow's provocations in Eastern Ukraine.

EU officials said they "have a brutal confirmation" that the Kremlin is behind the uprisings in eastern Ukraine.

"Putin is attacking again and there are people dying in Ukraine for the country's independence," Monica Macovei, member of the European Parliament, said in a statement to SETimes. "It is obvious Putin is intent on rebuilding the Soviet Union, the great dictatorship in the East raised by Stalin through genocide, terror, labour camps and death. Putin, just like Stalin, is leaving behind dead and borders treaded. It is important we stand by our Ukrainian neighbours in these very difficult moments."

Ukraine's State Security Service published on its website and posted on its YouTube channel a taped phone call between so-called separatists and a subscriber with Russian number. According to the security service, the conversation proves that the Kremlin is carrying out full-scale military aggression in eastern Ukraine, using forces of Russian intelligence diversionary groups.

Russia has already opposed Kiev's decision to use force against separatists in eastern Ukraine. Putin's press secretary said the Kremlin is receiving many messages from citizens of southeastern Ukraine with clear requests to protect them.

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Official Kiev tried its best to solve the "eastern crisis" peacefully, and is considering talks regarding the holding a referendum. "We aren't against referendum," Turchynov told parliament Monday. "Furthermore, I'm confident, majority of Ukrainians during the referendum that can take place the same time as president elections, will vote for independent, democratic and unitary Ukraine."

Vadim Karasyov, director of the Institute of Global Strategies in Kiev, said the situation in Ukraine now very much depends on the results of the meeting between Ukraine, Russia, US and EU officials scheduled at the end of the week.

"[Ukraine's] 19 out of 27 regions border other countries. That's why we should consider both opinions, eastern and western," Karasyov told SETimes. "Otherwise, everyone will lose."

What are your expectations from the meeting of Ukraine, Russia, the US and EU? Join the discussion below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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