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Ukrainian city seized by pro-Russia forces



(Reuters) - Armed separatists took virtual control of a city in eastern Ukraine on Saturday and Kiev prepared troops to deal with what it called an "act of aggression by Russia".

Pro-Russian activists carrying automatic weapons seized government buildings in Slaviansk and set up barricades on the outskirts of the city. Official buildings in several neighboring towns were also attacked.

The developments have increased concerns of a possible "gas war" that could disrupt energy supplies across the continent.

"The Ukrainian authorities consider the events of the day as a display of external aggression from Russia," Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a statement.

Pro-Russian Gunmen Seize Police Station In Eastern Ukraine

"Units of the interior and defense ministries are implementing an operational response plan," he added.

Russia and Ukraine have been in confrontation since protests in Kiev forced the Moscow-backed president from office, and the Kremlin sent troops to annex Crimea, the home of its Black Sea Fleet and a part of Russia until 1954.

Moscow denies any plan to send in forces or split Ukraine, but the Western-leaning authorities in Kiev believe Russia is trying to create a pretext to interfere again. NATO says Russian armed forces are massing on Ukraine's eastern border, while Moscow says they are on normal manoeuvres.

At least 20 men armed with pistols and rifles took over the police station and a security services headquarters in Slaviansk, a city of over 100,000 people about 150 km (90 miles) from the border with Russia.

Officials said the men had seized hundreds of pistols from arsenals in the buildings. The militants replaced the Ukrainian flag on one of the buildings with the red, white and blue Russian flag.

Washington backed Kiev's assessment that Moscow was responsible. "Worrisome violence in ... Ukraine today. Russia again seems to be behind it," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Twitter.

ROADBLOCKS AROUND CITY

On a road leading into Slaviansk, other members of the group, armed with automatic rifles, set up a roadblock and checked vehicles entering the city, a Reuters reporter said.

There was no sign of any Ukrainian law enforcement officials in the city.

Ukraine's Western-backed government warned of tough action if the militants did not lay down their weapons, but it was unclear if the local law enforcement agencies were taking orders from Kiev any more after the local police chief quit.

Kostyantyn Pozhydayev came out to speak to pro-Russian protesters at his offices in the regional capital, Donetsk, and told them he was stepping down "in accordance with your demands". Some of his officers left the building.

The protesters occupied the ground floor of the Donetsk police headquarters and a black and orange flag adopted by pro-Russian separatists flew over the building in place of the Ukrainian flag.

The occupations are a potential flashpoint because if protesters are killed or hurt by Ukrainian forces, that could prompt the Kremlin to intervene to protect the local Russian-speaking population, a repeat of the scenario in Crimea.

Oleksandr Turchynov, the acting Ukrainian president, called an emergency meeting of the national security council for Saturday evening to discuss the unrest in the east.

Ukraine's acting foreign minister, Andriy Deshchytsia, said he had spoken by telephone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and demanded Moscow stop what he called "provocative actions" by its agents in eastern Ukraine.

Lavrov, in a statement issued by his ministry, said there were no Russian agents in the region and that it would be "unacceptable" if Ukrainian authorities were to order the storming of the buildings.

Ukrainian commentator Sergei Leshchenko said the burst of activity by pro-Russian groups was an attempt by the Kremlin to give it a strong negotiating position before international talks about Ukraine in Geneva next Thursday.

Russia is expected to argue at the talks for a revamp of Ukraine's constitution to give a large degree of autonomy to eastern Ukraine, something Kiev and its Western backers reject.

"Russia will come to the talks with the position that 'Donetsk and several neighboring regions are already ours - now let's talk about federalization'," said Leshchenko, a commentator with the Ukrainska Pravda newspaper.

'GAS WAR'

With the crisis in Ukraine still unresolved, the gas dispute threatens to affect millions of people across Europe.

A large proportion of the natural gas that EU states buy from Russia is pumped via Ukrainian territory, so if Russia makes good on a threat to cut off Ukraine for non-payment of its bills, customers further west will have supplies disrupted.

Russia is demanding Kiev pay a much higher price for its gas, and settle unpaid bills. Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom and its Ukrainian counterpart, Naftogaz, are in talks, but the chances of an agreement are slim.

"I would say we are coming nearer to a solution of the situation, but one in the direction that is bad for Ukraine," Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuri Prodan said in an interview with the German newspaper Boersenzeitung

"We are probably steering towards Russia turning off its gas provision," he was quoted as saying.

That raised the specter of a repeat of past "gas wars", when Ukraine's gas was cut off with a knock-on effect on supplies to EU states.

The scope for compromise narrowed after the Naftogaz chief executive told a Ukrainian newspaper that Kiev was suspending payments to Gazprom pending a conclusion of talks on a new deal.

Ukraine has de facto stopped payments already because it failed to make an installment of over $500 million due this month to Russian state gas giant Gazprom.

Moscow says it does not want to turn off Ukraine's gas if it can be avoided, and that it will honor all commitments to supply its EU customers.

(Additional reporting by Conor Humphries in Kiev, Alexei Anishchuk, Alessandra Prentice and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow, William Schomberg in London, Annika Breidthardt in Berlin, Lina Kushch in Donetsk, Ukraine and Gleb Garanich in Slaviansk, Ukraine; Writing by Christian Lowe and Conor Humphries; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Join the discussion

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Camp Bulldog April 13 2014 at 12:55 AM

FREEDOM FREEDOM.....

To the Ukraine

Freedom....be it 1776...2014....1984... Russians....Soviets.....they both quack & walk...and march like a duck

Freedom carries the same value.

I challenge you.... I will put you in the Position of Putin. Everyone knows the Soviet economy hinges on the fuel pumped to Europe.
You have just been informed by me.... I will destroy your pipelines running through my country should you set one foot inside my borders. Since I have your attention..... you now have 25 days to remove your Navy & Army from the Crimea territory. If not...I will blow one pipeline.

Trust me...I would push that button....before I lose my Nation to the Iron hand of your Soviet Nation.
Before I see the Freedom of my Nation be lost to you.

Your move...Mr. Putin.... You may have Nucs as a deterent....I have your country's wallet...

Flag Reply +3 rate up
astronauty April 12 2014 at 4:05 PM

This is what can happen when a country (or countries) are dependent on another country for oil and gas. All the more of a lesson for us to become TOTALLY self-reliant in this matter.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
Warren astronauty April 12 2014 at 4:24 PM

One of he few sane comments in this thread.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
luvshluxa April 12 2014 at 6:30 PM

Why hasn't our media ever reported on "right sector"? They are a paramilitary NEO-NAZI group that engaged in most of the violence during the "peaceful protests" in Kiev. Their involvement has been reported by the BBC and other European news agencies, but not here... why???

Flag Reply +1 rate up
2 replies
reneesangel1954 luvshluxa April 12 2014 at 6:41 PM

Then read it on BBC troll

Flag Reply 0 rate up
1 reply
luvshluxa reneesangel1954 April 12 2014 at 6:47 PM

That you read only what you are told to read reminds me of the old Soviet Pravda readers. Expand your mind just a little. Travel. Go to Ukraine, as I have. Live there a while, as I have. Meet the people, eat with the friends you make... as I have. Then get back to me once you're educated on the subject.

Flag 0 rate up
tugboy101 luvshluxa April 12 2014 at 10:51 PM

at that time they were freedom fighters

Flag Reply 0 rate up
EUGENE April 12 2014 at 6:35 PM

who gives a F@#$ !! we have enough of those freeloaders in the U.S.A ! we dont need anymore spending on them !

Flag Reply +4 rate up
ccovercurtis April 12 2014 at 3:57 PM

all part of the plan

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Jerry April 12 2014 at 10:23 PM

These guys are russian army in different uniforms, and putin is in charge.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
1 reply
astronauty Jerry April 12 2014 at 11:26 PM

Yep.

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Stryyder56 April 12 2014 at 10:13 PM

I would be the mortgage that those Pro-Russian Forces are Russian Military.......................faces are hidden, no patches on the uniforms..........................Putin knows exactly what he is doing. He will take the Ukraine back piece by piece one city at a time, until the tanks are in front of the Parliament building in Kiev..............................then it will be too late..................

Flag Reply +5 rate up
kent_hern April 13 2014 at 2:38 AM

There is an enormous amount of activity going on in the NATO bases today.
Someone is about to reap the whirlwind!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Bruce Catlin April 12 2014 at 7:21 PM

The American and European progressive socialists being shown how its done by the ones who invented the process

Flag Reply +6 rate up
eeodjo April 12 2014 at 7:29 PM

It seems to me that Russia is holding the trump card. Ukraine and EU depends on Russia's natural gas. Additionally, Russia can move massive military forces to the eastern Ukrainian borders if need be and, eastern Ukrainians appears ready to join Russia. So what will the European Union and the United States do besides make more noise and more sanctions after sanctions? It is a no win situation for EU and the US, except that IF not losing any wasted blood is considered as a win, then so be it. I don't think getting in between Ukraine and Russia is worth losing lives.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
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