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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.


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.


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

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
CornStove7 April 12 2014 at 11:41 PM

so ... if Ukraine has a army and a military, then they should re-take control of the buildings. If they don't pay their gas bill because of an exobinate gas price hike, then they need to develop gas alternatives. Ukraine government leaders are facing loaded guns against them and need to take control of their country and manage their country better.

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1 reply
vcgh2000 CornStove7 April 13 2014 at 12:12 AM

Ukraine was getting their gas from Russia at a 25% discount to the market rate for natural gas. They are still in arrears on their payments to Gazprom.

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wizardsking April 12 2014 at 4:12 PM

UN and NATO are broken.
The word SACTION means do nothing.

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1 reply
astronauty wizardsking April 12 2014 at 4:23 PM

When Ukraine resisted Soviet attempts at collectivization in the 1920s and '30s, the Soviet Union under Stalin used labor camps, executions, and starvation (Holodomor) to kill millions of Ukrainians.

In 1933, the recently elected administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt granted official U.S. recognition to the Soviet Union for the first time. Especially repugnant was that this recognition was granted even though Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had just concluded a campaign of genocide against Ukraine that left over 10 million dead. This atrocity was known to the Roosevelt administration, but not to the American people at large, thanks to suppression of the story by the Western press — as we shall show.

Ukraine's Untold Tragedy

The Ukrainian genocide remains largely unknown. After 76 years, the blood of the victims still cries for truth, and the guilt of the perpetrators for exposure.

Many Americans are barely acquainted with Ukraine, even though it is Europe's second largest country after Russia, and has been a distinct land and people for centuries. One reason for this unfamiliarity is that Ukraine has rarely known political independence; it was under Russia's heel throughout much of its existence — under Soviet domination prior to 1991, and under Czarist Russia before that. Many American students heard little or nothing of Ukraine in their history classes because the nation had been relegated to the status of a Russian "province."

Stalin accomplished genocide against Ukraine by two means. One was massive executions and deportations to labor camps. But his second tool of murder was more unique: an artificial famine created by confiscation of all food. Ukrainians call this the Holodomor, translated by one modern Ukrainian dictionary as "artificial hunger, organized on a vast scale by the criminal regime against the country's population," but often simply translated as "murder by hunger."

Ukraine was the last place one would have expected famine, for it had been known for centuries as the "breadbasket of Europe." French diplomat Blaise de Vigenère wrote in 1573: "Ukraine is overflowing with honey and wax.... The soil of this country is so good and fertile that when you leave a plow in the field, it becomes overgrown with grass after two or three days. It will be difficult to find." The 18th-century British traveler Joseph Marshall wrote: "The Ukraine is the richest province of the Russian empire.... The soil is a black loam.... I think I have never seen such deep plowing as these peasants give their ground."

In the aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution, Ukraine became part of a bloody battlefield of fighting between the Bolsheviks (the group that eventually became the Communist Party of the Soviet Union), Czarist Whites, and Ukrainian nationalists. Ultimately, of course, the Bolsheviks prevailed, but Lenin shrewdly recognized that concessions would be necessary to gain Ukraine's cooperation as a member of the unstable young USSR.

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1 reply
Roza Cooper astronauty April 12 2014 at 5:01 PM

There were millions of people in many parts of the former Soviet Union who suffered from Communism side effects. millions of Russian among them, millions of other nationalities which are part of Russia now. Do not present it as it if happen only to Ukrainians.

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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

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dsmithsfamily April 12 2014 at 5:44 PM

hate when this happens. tell them the park needs to be cleaned and kick them all out

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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.

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johnria April 12 2014 at 7:32 PM

Frankly I do not care which flag is hoisted in the Eastern part of the Ukraine. We did not seem to have much of a problem creating a North and South Korea and a North and South Vietnam. We had no problem slicing Iraq up to accommodate the Kurds in the North. Europe is threatening to send American forces to the Ukraine to sort things out. In my opinion if they want to interfere they should get a European contingent together and do the job themselves. We should wean ourselves of armed conflicts and start rebuilding this nation.

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1 reply
tugboy101 johnria April 12 2014 at 10:32 PM

Europe cant send American troops to Ukraine, only Obama can

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jtrulyfree April 12 2014 at 7:32 PM

I am a nobody, neither yea or nea but a thought to keep in mind..........If President Obama and Mr. Putin could exchange shoes, I would simply ask what would President Obama do: Mr. Putin had his face literally pushed into the dirt (metaphorically speaking) while he was attending the Olympics in China this resulted in not only Mr. Putin but China also feeling a type of humiliation (metaphorically speaking). Ironically Mrs. Obama recently had a wonderful trip to China and is highly respected.

The Olympics being held in Russia and another happening (Ukraine) similar to the Georgian Situation before, when Mr. Putin and China experienced a type of humiliation. If President Obama were in Mr. Putin's shoes, from reading of the drone program and other things would President Obama really sit back?.............................. Now we find the "Genie is out of the bottle" (Pandora's Box has been opened widely), anything literally could happen with so many hot spots around the world. This is a time the U.S. and Russia should be working together, but there are some who do not want this to happen............ Consequently look for a False Flag to bring everything to a climax. God Bless, Maas, etc. to all...

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jmg62 April 12 2014 at 7:42 PM

Well, hope Ukraine has kept up on it's Russian language skills. Does ANYONE in the EU, the US or Ukraine LISTEN to Putin's speeches? Foregone conclusion. Putin wants to cut off petroleum products to Ukraine - (see speech to Western European Nations 3&6 months before Sochii Olympics) European Union placated Putin and "all's well". No, no it wasn't. Idiots. Merkel folded and NATO takes Putin at his word while 2300 tanks are coming together now across from areas North and South of Ukraine which can be moved into place in 4 hours to take eastern Ukraine. Poland is having kittens and while NATO uses words like - "American forces may be moved to,..", "potential unrest,...", "Russia said they wouldn't take advantage of,..", "there's doubt that Ukraine would have Russian's come further inside their porous border.", "there's little sign of the coordination of troops in Ukraine as in the Crimea,.." "we hope for a peaceful solution to Ukraine's debt to Russia,..." - (Since Putin has turned it back onto the EU, the US, the World Bank to pay Gazprom for Ukraine's debt - and they either WILL or he'll take the Country! if anyone had heard his speeches and now Lavrov's, his and Medvedev will be coming out again soon). Putin has been to China and Iran. Hello? The EU started all this with a simple Trade Agreement. Putin took advantage to make it a CHOICE - EAST vs. WEST. Plotting it for a while. He's winning.Guile and Threats of Force.

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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.

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1 reply
Warren astronauty April 12 2014 at 4:24 PM

One of he few sane comments in this thread.

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lmfctdoctor April 12 2014 at 7:44 PM

You show a picture of a protester holding a shield with "Obama" on it, but you don't follow through with what the intent of the inscription was by the protester. Again, you wet appetites but don't deliver. Who is proofing your photos and commentaries? Get some expertise and professionalism behind you.

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