Kiev pledges Easter ceasefire

April 20, 2014 - 5:27:22 am
Masked pro-Russian protesters stand guard outside a regional government building in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, yesterday.

KIEV/DONETSK: The Ukra-inian government said it will not attack pro-Russian separatists over the Easter weekend as its US ally threatened Moscow with new sanctions if it fails to persuade the 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 Ukrainian militants should disarm and vacate occupied buildings.

Ukraine’s government, short of effective forces, 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 promised “the suspension of the active phase of the anti-terrorist operation” among a list of government initiatives to defuse the crisis issued late on Friday. A spokeswoman for the SBU state security service said yesterday that the suspension was “linked to the implementation of the Geneva agreement and the Easter holidays”.

“The anti-terrorist operation was put on hold for the Easter time and we will be not using force against them at this moment,” Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia was quoted as saying by Britain’s BBC. On Friday, he warned the militants that “more concrete actions” could be taken next week if they failed to start surrendering to international peace monitors.

Deshchytsia met officials in Kiev yesterday from the OSCE, a European security body that includes both Nato members and Russia. The OSCE will oversee implementation of the Geneva accord, under which Russia, Ukraine, the United States and European Union agreed to a process of disarmament and an end to occupations as part of wider programme to defuse the gravest East-West crisis since the end of the Cold War.

OSCE officials said there was so far no indication from militants there that they had the “political will” to give up.  On Friday, separatist leaders said Russia’s signature on the Geneva deal was not binding on them. Moscow denies Western assertions that it is controlling the Ukrainian activists.

After weeks of bitter mutual recriminations, Vladimir Putin held out the prospect of better relations with the West yesterday but the Russian president made clear it would depend on concessions from his adversaries in the crisis over Ukraine.

“I think there is nothing that would hinder a normalisation and normal cooperation,” he said in an interview to be broadcast by Russian state television in which he commented favourably on the appointment of a new head of Nato. “This does not depend on us. Or rather not only on us. This depends on our partners.”

Russia denies preparing to invade, despite massing thousands of troops on the frontier. A Kremlin official said troops on the border were there only as a precaution against any spillover of violence, not to interfere in Ukraine.

US President Barack Obama’s officials 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.  Washington did not spell out what further sanctions it might place on Russia.