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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.

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arcoregar April 24 2014 at 7:19 AM

Humans can be very disappointing...there is ALWAYS violence SOMEWHERE.

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Lauderdale Sand April 24 2014 at 2:48 PM

We will never go to war here and Putin knows it. We blew all our war chips in Iraq, and Afghanistan.

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drepke April 24 2014 at 4:35 AM

Russian troops oooppss I mean Russian speaking armed separatists have violated the agreement. Thereby giving Putin the desired excuse, at least in his own mind, to invade Eastern Ukraine as they did in Georgia in 2008. Manufacture incidents, say you are defending the innocent Russian speaking people who created the incident in the first place, and invade the area/country you wanted to in the first place. So on Putins chalkboard we have Georgia 2008, Crimia 2014 and looks like Eastern Ukraine is next so he can have that land access to the Blacksea port that every analyst said once he got Crimia he was going to do.

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Tom April 24 2014 at 2:56 PM

Puton does it again. He does not or will not back down. He is not week like Obama.

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1 reply
franklinjefferson Tom April 24 2014 at 3:16 PM

nor weak like Bush, I suppose. He was president when Putin went into Georgia and, unlike now, he wasn't even sanctioned.

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1 reply
Lauderdale Sand franklinjefferson April 24 2014 at 3:46 PM

Camp Bulldog:

I thought the reason we went into Afghanistan was 911, and then we ventured into Iraq, which was the real target.

Flag 0 rate up
Iselin007 April 24 2014 at 3:06 PM

Hey don't escalate the situation because Putin may call your bluff .

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
Camp Bulldog Iselin007 April 24 2014 at 3:34 PM

That would be a sad day for the whole World....the day Mr. Putin calls out my hand...

He will be able to hear his entire distribution system blow up....all the way to Moscow

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rgkarasiewicz April 24 2014 at 3:06 PM

American diplomats: Carriers of threats, exploitations, and strife.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
bbh907 April 24 2014 at 3:12 PM

As far as I'm concerned,this is between Russia and the Ukraine and it can stay that way.Nothing to do with USA so we can just stay out of it!

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lou stickles April 24 2014 at 8:48 AM

This current move by Putin is straight out of the playbook of Ivan IV (the Terrible) and a perfect reflection of the means by which he consolidated Muscovite power over all the Russias. His "Black Riders" are already stirring up the pot to divide and confuse both the Ukrainans and their leadership, while daring anybody else to intervene. Tsar Ivan would be proud of his new protoge!

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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."

Hmmm.

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!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
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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a1948ant April 24 2014 at 8:53 AM

Is this 1939 or 2014?

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2 replies
Intense Insanity a1948ant April 24 2014 at 9:02 AM

At this rate, it's soon to be the end of the calendar as we know it!!

Flag Reply 0 rate up
igorfromvladimir a1948ant April 24 2014 at 9:19 AM

1939? And what exactly happened in 1939? USSR occupied Western Ukraine? If they didn't, how would do that instead, do you know? Hitler would and Slovenian race was a second on the Hitler's extermination race after Jews. Do you know that?

Flag Reply 0 rate up
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