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Amid Russia warning, Ukraine is in a security bind

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -- Russia's foreign minister warned Wednesday that attacks on Russian citizens or interests in Ukraine would bring a firm response and drew a comparison to the circumstances that opened the war with Georgia in 2008.

"Russian citizens being attacked is an attack against the Russian Federation," Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, a day after Ukraine announced it was re-launching a campaign against pro-Kremlin insurgents occupying government facilities in the mostly Russian-speaking east.

"If we were attacked we could certainly respond," Lavrov said, speaking on the Kremlin-funded satellite TV channel RT.

Lavrov's warning came as the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a separate statement demanding that Ukraine pull its armed forces out of the crisis-ridden region.

"If our interests, our legitimate interests, the interests of Russians have been attacked directly, like they were in South Ossetia, I do not see any other way but to respond in full accordance with international law," Lavrov said, referring to the 2008 war that led to the breaking away of the Georgian republic of South Ossetia.

In that conflict, Russia launched an invasion of Georgia after it unleashed an artillery attack on the capital of the separatist region, where Russian peacekeeping forces were stationed. However, unlike the conflict with Georgia, Russia has denied having troops or agents in eastern Ukraine.

The Russian warnings came as an accord reached last week in Geneva to defuse the Ukraine crisis continued to crumble, with pro-Russian insurgents in the east defying calls for all sides to disarm and to vacate the buildings they are occupying.

On Tuesday, Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, ordered resumption of an "anti-terrorist operation" against the pro-Russia forces. However, the highly publicized move produced little action on the ground Wednesday.

A previous campaign to reclaim seized buildings showed few results before it was suspended last week. Ukrainian forces claimed to have regained control of one small airport, but insurgents also seized armored vehicles and reports said some Ukrainian soldiers had switched sides.

"Security forces are in a state of disorganization and demoralization," said Kiev-based political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko. "Today, most of them don't want to fight for anyone because they don't know who is going to win tomorrow and how all of this will end."

The army is underfunded and poorly equipped after years of corruption and mismanagement under Viktor Yanukovych, the Russia-friendly president who fled the country in February after months of protests.

Yanukovych's ouster sparked wide anger in his support base in Ukraine's east. The insurgents, who claim Ukraine's post-Yanukovych government consists of nationalists who will suppress the east's large Russian-speaking population, are demanding regional autonomy or even annexation by Russia, like the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea last month.

The insurgents, whom Kiev and the West claim have Russian backing and direction, have occupied buildings in at least 10 eastern cities.

It's a strategy that Eugene Rumer, director of the Russia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says appears to be "spreading across the map like ink blots."

"They are a long ways away from merging into a large area, but this strategy is proving quite effective at challenging the power and authority of the Kiev government, undermining Ukraine's territorial integrity and spreading the insurgency over a vast region that otherwise the Russian military would struggle to occupy and control," he wrote in an analysis.

In analyst Fesenko's view, it's impossible for Ukraine to restore control over the insurgent region by force.

"Now the task is to block the spread of the separatist virus," he said.

The heart of the insurgent region - centered on the eastern city of Slovyansk, 100 miles (160 kilometers) west of the Russian border - has fallen into lawlessness. The Kiev government's order to resume military operations in the east came after the bodies of two people allegedly abducted by pro-Russia insurgents were found in the area.

On Wednesday, pro-Russia forces in Slovyansk said they were holding an American journalist, saying he was suspected of spying for Ukrainian ultra-nationalists.

Simon Ostrovsky, a journalist for Brooklyn-based Vice News, has not been seen since early Tuesday in Slovyansk. The fluent Russian-speaker who also holds an Israeli passport has been covering the crisis in Ukraine for weeks and was reporting about the masked gunmen seizing government buildings.

Stella Khorosheva, a spokeswoman for the Slovyansk insurgents, confirmed that Ostrovsky was being held.

"He's with us. He's fine," she told The Associated Press.

"(We) need to be careful, because this is not the first time we're dealing with spies," Khorosheva added, saying Ostrovsky is suspected of spying for Right Sector, a far-right nationalist group despised by the pro-Russia forces.

She dismissed claims he was a hostage, saying the insurgents were not seeking to "exchange him for someone."

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said U.S. authorities were "deeply concerned" about Ostrovsky's detention.

"We condemn any such actions, and all recent hostage-takings in eastern Ukraine, which directly violate commitments made in the Geneva joint statement," she said. "We call on Russia to use its influence with these groups to secure the immediate and safe release of all hostages in eastern Ukraine."

The crisis in Ukraine has provoked clear anxiety in Western Europe. Poland, which borders Russia and Ukraine, conducted its first major security exercise in decades on Wednesday.

In addition, Dutch, British and Danish fighter jets scrambled after a pair of Russian bombers approached their airspace over the North Sea. The Russian TU-95 Bear jets were escorted by the NATO members' aircraft until they departed.

And the presidents of four post-Soviet republics and Ukraine's foreign minister were meeting in Prague with EU nations Thursday to try to figure out how to stop Russia from blocking their increased ties.

Join the discussion

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maria hubbard April 24 2014 at 8:00 AM


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2 replies
r4249622 maria hubbard April 24 2014 at 8:07 AM

Really? Why don't you tell that to the family of Bin Laden and the dozens of other Al Quida leader's families. They might not agree.

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normde maria hubbard April 24 2014 at 8:23 AM

If I were the biggest, baddest m-f that ever walked through the valley there would be no need to to announce it to the world.

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USS Titanic April 24 2014 at 10:20 AM


look at the numbers/miles of pipelines running THROUGH that Nation....

Simply threaten to blow the distribution system....and watch the Soviet economy collapse....along with Europe & USA...

Then watch Putin's ass hole pucker up. Watch Europe kick in gear....

'Hold onto their wallets' until they understand just what will happen if the Soviets invade....

Give it a week to sink into thier stupid heads. Then simply march into Eastern Ukraine...kill or capture the traitors...

That is called Scorched Earth NOW you just had your first lesson in ..Training a Bear 101

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tomra1212 April 24 2014 at 10:21 AM

O will do the same thing he did when Americans were killed in Benghazi


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1 reply
Roberta tomra1212 April 24 2014 at 10:31 AM

Ignorant hate.

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lramos7489 April 24 2014 at 10:28 AM

If the Russians are concerned about their citizens, then why don't they ask them to return to Russia and avoid any more conflict.

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2 replies
Rich lramos7489 April 24 2014 at 10:35 AM

I have been saying that since Russia invaded crimea. Open the boarders, let the supposed russians in Ukraine cross to Russia. Russia is so pumped about helping their citizens, they should pay the russian refugees reperations, let them settle in Russia, that will make Czar Puttin most happy, yes?

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1 reply
igorfromvladimir Rich April 24 2014 at 10:58 AM

Invaded Crimea??? Russians fought there all their lives. Pull some history books and read who died there 100 years ago. Any country border with Ukraine were invading Ukraine 100 times each year since 17 century and before that until Russia said: "No more." What about Russian people that live in Crimea? Do you think those Western Ukraine nationalists will shake their hands. Have you thought about that?

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igorfromvladimir lramos7489 April 24 2014 at 11:00 AM

Really? Where do you live? Do you thin it's that easy to leave the place your live all your life and your parents and grandparents? Crimea historically and ethnically ALWAYS was Russian territory.

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spectrumprodec2 April 24 2014 at 10:29 AM

As the offensive at Slaviansk was confirmed, Russian President Vladimir Putin said it would be a very serious crime for Ukraine to use its army in the east and said there would be "consequences".

So if masked gunmen were to take over government buildings in any country and that country used force to remove them they could be invaded by another country, its just a way for the Ahole Putin to invade the Ukraine

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2 replies
igorfromvladimir spectrumprodec2 April 24 2014 at 11:02 AM

What about Western nationalists that took a president palace and ouster Yanukovich? Yes, he was an ahole as well but wasn't he a lawful president? So "masked gunmen" a re terrorist and people who took a president palace are not?

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1 reply
worldcommenter igorfromvladimir April 24 2014 at 2:43 PM

They took over the City Hall and the Trade Union buildings. The Presidential Palace, the Parliment building and even the President's residence outside of Kyiv were not takenover by the Maidan protesters. GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT.

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Sabot spectrumprodec2 April 24 2014 at 11:40 AM

Evidently nobody remembers Adolph Hitler!

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MIKEY'S SCREEN April 24 2014 at 3:44 AM

"Russian citizens being attacked is an attack against the Russian Federation."


So that means there are THAT MANY Russian "citizens" living in the Ukraine, under Ukraine law, and shouldn't be "pushed around" by the Ukraine legal government because they are Russian foreigners?

Well, the U.S. is in BIG trouble then!

After all, the Southwest and southern portions of Arizona and California are dominated by MEXICAN CITIZENS, even if they are ILLEGHAL, right?

Does that mean the Mexican Government can send in troops, tanks, and aircraft to protect these Mexican citizens from the sovereign country of America who arrest them for being illegal?

I thought not, not because the situation is almost the same, but because Mexico doesn’t have the military to pop a pimple on OB’s ass

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2 replies
royster MIKEY'S SCREEN April 24 2014 at 3:48 AM

really the picture in the story is a tank from ww1!

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presburg MIKEY'S SCREEN April 24 2014 at 3:52 AM

well, look this is what ukrainian kiev fascists do to their prorussian citizens and tell me how you feel then after....http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=d08_1397763033

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HIGHPOWER April 24 2014 at 10:35 AM

Everything Obama has done and said up to this point has lead to where we are now. Putin already knew his neighbors would do nothing and any fool could tell from his first day on the job Obama would do nothing. This could have been avoided if Obama had a foreign policy. When Obama was 10 years old he went to school with a pocket full of marbles and came home with none.

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3 replies
Brad April 24 2014 at 10:38 AM

wait a minute didn't Obama draw a line.?

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1 reply
mestranger2all Brad April 24 2014 at 11:22 AM

No Syria he did. This situation was unique so he had to place the full brut force of sanctions upon them that of course they are in the UN allowed to veto even when its against them. I want to be my own jury if I commit a crime that's cool. But Europe has to much invested in Russia's export of energy and fuel they are dependent and Putin knows it. sanctions are limited because of this but they sound harsh coming from the president of the USA who also tipped the possibility of trying to pretend to be getting ready for military support by telling the world that 'sanctions were all we would put out there cause we will not get in the way of a war

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barryaclarke April 24 2014 at 10:42 AM

Russian President Putin is pushing the buttons of President Obama because he knows our president has run out of red ink................

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1 reply
cutlassv8 barryaclarke April 24 2014 at 11:03 AM

Obama also has no walnuts.

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ROB SYKES April 24 2014 at 3:22 AM

Time for another stern warning from the White House the message the village idiot Joe B. didn't work out as planned...

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