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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)

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nanjeanmor April 12 2014 at 3:43 PM

Thanks for the story, CNN has brushed over this story in order to continue to over hypothesize over the Malaysian missing plane. I also notice that since the student in Pennsylvania slashed 20 people instead of using a gun, no one, including obama who is so ready to intrude into every gun crime, has brushed it under a carpet.

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1 reply
sandinbox nanjeanmor April 12 2014 at 4:07 PM

Ukraine is a prime example of people left helpless without being armed and having a strong military. They are now being subjected to humiliation and invasion and having their country stolen. The democrats want to blame all the violence and insanity in this country on objects rather than their heavy paying Hollywood patrons propagandize Americans and degrading our society by constantly putting on the big and little screen nothing but sex, violence, vulgarity, bullying and humiliation of one another all for money. After all Hollywood loves HBO because it allows horrific violence, rape every kind of depravity is allowed on the screen. We've become a sick, perverted, cowardice society. There is no honor amoung thieves and the worst ones we have are in government and Hollywood. If you wnna know why all the violence etc...just look at TV and movies. Now they're trying to pass anti-bullying laws after they've taught everyone how to bully on TV....OIY....We all need to stop supporting Hollywood...don't watch their sick programs and go to their sick movies.

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Welcome Justin April 12 2014 at 3:52 PM

juststeve35

Since I can't reply to your comments below, hopefully you will see this and decide to educate yourself on the issue.

How can you say there was only one choice on the Crimean vote ? Because huffpost told you so ? The options were to remain in Ukraine as an autonomous region, as per the referendum of 94, or to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. How are those two options the same ?

Furthermore, if the only thing that has changed is the President, then why have the majority of gov officials in Ukraine either stepped down or been replaced ?

Please look into what you are talking about instead of just regurgitating some rhetoric. This is not huffpost, so you will need more than propaganda.

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1 reply
daveliq Welcome Justin April 12 2014 at 4:05 PM

Great Post I am sick and tired of Huff Puff News. Why do all AOL members be subject to their left views? I for one will leave AOL within the month. Maybe AOL will learn when membership drops and Ad money goes away

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Ghetto Cat April 12 2014 at 3:51 PM

No other country keeps out the colored transients like Russia.

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James M. Adams April 12 2014 at 3:49 PM

Barry experiencing shrinkage. He's in full turtle mode now. Michelle is ordering new batteries while threatening to leave him.

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tugboy101 April 12 2014 at 3:47 PM

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.

what's wrong with a large degree of autonomy? if that what people want?

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1 reply
Welcome Justin tugboy101 April 12 2014 at 3:52 PM

Since when does what the people want have anything to do with it ?

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oytser April 12 2014 at 3:52 PM

Putin is right. Crimea belongs to Russia. It was mistakenly "given" to Ukraine because at that time no one in the then USSR ever foresaw that the USSR would ever break apart. That was the first mistake by Nikita Kruschev. The second and bigger blunder was when Boris Yelstin allowed Ukraine to break off from Russia without retaining Crimea as part of Russia. He should have said to Ukraine, if you want to break off, fine but Crimea stays with Russia. Putin just corrected these two mistakes. The United States, with its glorious record of interferring with so many countries in the name of democracy, has no legs to stand on. After all, one can't tell someone not to do something that you have been doing all along all over the world especially in the Middle East. Checkmate.

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ppellico April 12 2014 at 3:44 PM

your lead link to this sight claimed "Russian Moves" cause concern. What exactly did Russia do? I read the story and all it shows is "pro" Russian activist...nothing directly Russian.
What gives?

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1 reply
sandinbox ppellico April 12 2014 at 3:58 PM

ppellico....The captain that stepped down is Russian...these are all Russian activist that is well know by everyone except you who are being paid by Putin.

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pasquamar April 12 2014 at 3:45 PM

IF THEY WANT FREEDOM, FIGHT BACK! it's not our problem, especially if they won't fight for themselves.

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2 replies
ttoozz pasquamar April 12 2014 at 3:47 PM

That's what cattle ranchers in Nevada are doing

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sandinbox pasquamar April 12 2014 at 3:57 PM

pasquamar...what do you suggest they fight back with clubs? Ukrainians are 1-20 Russians in arms and military. That's like saying go out and commit suicide. Putin made sure to secretly put his Puppet as PM of Ukraine...he went on to demilitarize the country rob it blind and sell it to Putin without the people's knowledge. America promised Ukraine to protect its sovernity if they gave up their weapons and they did. We should be people of our world. This chicken **** government that we have is jeprodizing this country's security by allowing Putin to move on Ukraine. I guess this was the flexibility Obama promised Putin...Obama certainly is backing up the word of our country. He should be impeached. The most important job the federal government has is to protect the security of our country....they are not doing that right now....they are wishful thinking that this problem will go away if they just attend enough meetings and warn...Putin and his regime are laughing!!! Obviously, you are not an American patriot and don't understand how our actions now will affect this country and the rest of the world...but maybe more than anyone our own security is being compromised by the idiots in office. They care more about re-election than the security of this country.

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saed April 12 2014 at 3:50 PM

We and Europe have no business in Ukrain, it's next to Russia let them settle their differences, we don't have the stomach for another war. Fighting Russia is going to be lot different than fighting Iraq or Afganistan especially in their backyard. they are the only country that can destroy us with Nuclear weapon, of course we can destroy them also. We need to keep our nose out of it.

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James M. Adams April 12 2014 at 3:44 PM

What did Obama shoot today?

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2 replies
heveni James M. Adams April 12 2014 at 3:46 PM

His mouth off

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sandinbox James M. Adams April 12 2014 at 3:57 PM

His selfie!

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