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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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a1948ant April 24 2014 at 8:53 AM

Is this 1939 or 2014?

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3 replies
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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texastotenmom April 24 2014 at 10:43 AM

obamit n Hillary ("what difference does it matter") Benghazi will both be in jail in 2014. !!!

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Lauderdale Sand April 24 2014 at 11:36 AM

I agree with your post with this exception: Russia does not send its troops across the globe.

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4 replies
csands4 April 24 2014 at 5:25 AM

The powers are going to have to work out a deal where Eastern Ukraine gains more "autonomy" (read tacitly part of Russia) , it's the only way out for everybody before it becomes a bloody mess. Same problem in Iraq with the Kurds, Afghanistan, several African countries, etc. Too many groups wanting their own autonomous region, based on ethnic, religious, cultural differences, whatever. Seems like the "Nationstate" is becoming obsolete, we are reverting back to tribal systems...a lot of these current nationstates were set up artificailly after world wars (the Cold War in the case of Ukraine) and had nothing to do with the history of the regions, arbitrarily forcing different groups together who didn't want to be together.

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1 reply
I love Me csands4 April 24 2014 at 6:49 AM

what is real BS is the people with big money want to keep us in wars. People need to watch George Carlin videos on youtub,He had it down pat. We can not make a DVD,TV,Car or anything else worth a S...except things to kill people with! but we sure can bomb the F... out of you. Its our job control the world! I say next war leave our 18,19,20 year old kids here and send all the rich A..H....that want to start it. End of storie!

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Irena April 24 2014 at 11:36 AM

Why not have people of Ukraine choose where they want to live and move to Russia or stay in Ukrainian, why force them?

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2 replies
Bob Irena April 24 2014 at 11:40 AM

You don't seem to appreciate the reach of Komrad Putin!

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worldcommenter Irena April 24 2014 at 11:51 AM

Because Russia and Putin want the Ukrainian territory, they want the land. Russia has been "ethnically cleansing" Ukrainians out of central and eastern Ukraine since the 1920's and replacing them with ethnic Russians so that can "claim" that it is ethnic Russian territory. Stalin deported 210,000 Crimean Tartars and 70,000 Crimean Greek out of Crimea in the 1940's, so he could move ethnic Russians into Crimea and "make it look like" Crimea was an ethnic Russian area.

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3 replies
jrb359 April 24 2014 at 6:33 AM

Is that a Russian tank? Haven't they got anything newer since WWI?

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1 reply
mrd1776 jrb359 April 24 2014 at 7:19 AM

It is an Ukrainian tank and the answer is no. Just painted rust buckets.

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luke macdonald April 24 2014 at 12:12 PM

What good is it to have air and naval bases around the world, monitoring all of these countries, (who in fact slaughter their own people over beliefs or political views, chop hands off for petty theft, and kill females so that they can raise a billion man army - chinese fags), if we have to then rely on some *****, liberal politicians to make the call of when to act, and when to stand down. They are not helping the free world by putting their reputation with voters before the well being of their allies. Putin, I hate your guts, but you need to teach these liberal pieces of dog **** that we can not just stand around and watch N.A.T.O. fall like dominoes, all because Obama's chicken ****.

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2 replies
igorfromvladimir luke macdonald April 24 2014 at 12:38 PM

So, what do you suggest? Open war against a half of the world? You can never solve anything by force, how may lessons do you need?

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sandinbox luke macdonald April 24 2014 at 12:52 PM

Luke...do you really want central, eastern and possibly western europe falls to Putin just to bash Obama? If Europe falls so do we. I guess I'd make sure my representatives in Washington knew that we need a couple of hundred troops on the Ukrainian/Russian border now. These sanctions and 600 troops in Poland and baltic states are laughable. Unless, we get serious and really get in Putins way we're done for. If Obama can't act than I'd like to see the Republicans stand up and tell the people we're going to war if Putin invades Ukraine. They're suppose to lead the country instead they all sit around and whine and do nothing...Republicans are using this for their own political purposes to show how weak Obama/democrats are making us in the world and democrats are using this to show what war mongers republicans are and would bring us to WW3. I don't think the Russians wanna die anymore than we do. With real troops on the ground Putin would have to give up and stop trying to recreate the Russian Empire which has always been crap. The tsars and the communist killed and made most of central and eastern europe but especially Ukraine suffer for centuries. Russia is an barbaric and uncivilized country and should be weakened instead of being allowed to get stronger. It's always had maniacs as leaders.

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