MOSCOW: A female Ukrainian air force navigator has been arrested in Russia and charged over the deaths of two Russian journalists. Russian investigators said Nadiya Savchenko, a helicopter navigator, was an accomplice in what they claimed was the deliberate murder of the journalists during fighting in Ukraine’s restive east last month. A statement by the investigators said Savchenko was detained after crossing into Russia while “posing as a refugee” without any identity documents.
Kiev, however, accused Russia of kidnapping Savchenko and smuggling her across the border for prosecution, demanding her “unconditional release.”
LUGANSK: Rebel strongholds in eastern Ukraine braced for more fighting yesterday as Western leaders piled more pressure on Kiev to strike a truce with pro-Russian separatists.
In a telephone call, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the Western-backed President Petro Poroshenko to move toward a political solution and said he promised to exercise “restraint” in the continuing drive to establish control in eastern Ukraine.
Poroshenko said, however, that the rebels were still receiving weapons from Russian territory and lamented a “lack of progress” in even agreeing the next round of talks with Moscow.
In Lugansk — one of two regional capitals still held by the insurgents — streets were deserted and regular artillery fire was heard to the north of the city with shooting seeming to be focused around the rebels’ military headquarters.
Ukraine’s defence ministry said that troops had to repel a rebel attack on the Lugansk airport.
Three people were killed in the city and five injured in the past 24 hours, local authorities said. Another three servicemen were killed and four injured in clashes across east Ukraine in the same period, Kiev’s National Security and Defence Council said.
In Slavyansk, the flashpoint town that was left by the rebels at the weekend, shell-shocked residents said they had hopes that Kiev’s promises to rebuild it from the rubble were not just words.
“If (Poroshenko) wants to be the president of the whole country, I think they will rebuild it,” 62-year-old pensioner Nina said after meeting the Ukrainian leader on Tuesday evening on his lightning visit to the ravaged town where basic supplies are now distributed to queues of people.
The three-way call between Merkel, Hollande and Poroshenko lasted forty minutes, and Paris said it resulted in assurances by the Ukrainian leader to “exercise necessary restraint... to spare civilians” as Kiev is faced with the rebels now housed in the much larger city of Donetsk.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated calls from Moscow for Ukraine to sit down with the rebel leaders without “conditions”.
“They (the rebels) are not ready to fulfil Kiev’s ultimatums to capitulate and lay down their arms before negotiations begin,” Lavrov said at a press conference with Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, who later met with President Vladimir Putin.
Washington, meanwhile, said that tougher economic sanctions which could be catastrophic for the Russian economy were imminent unless Moscow demonstrates a clean break from separatists.
“We are ready to impose more costs — including targeted, sector-specific sanctions — very soon if Russia does not decisively change course and break its ties with separatists,” Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Ukraine’s military says it controls all routes in and out of Donetsk and Lugansk and defence council spokesman Andriy Lysenko warned a plan was in place that would give the rebels an “unpleasant surprise.”
“We are already 20 km from Donetsk,” Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said yesterday. “We will chase them until they find themselves in the other Donetsk,” he said, referring to a small Russian border town.