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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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bigred8690 April 24 2014 at 1:52 AM

This is like Tibet. There is no way to prevent Ukraine from being eventually absorbed by Russia. They have no natural defenses or natural border such as mountains.

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1 reply
Carl W. bigred8690 April 24 2014 at 2:33 AM

The bigger fear is: they're not going to stop @ ALL of Ukraine. Poland, Czech Republic, - this is Hitler #2, and no joke.

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1 reply
Ukraine Lover Carl W. April 24 2014 at 3:26 AM

It will never happen. Russia will not move on Poland or the Czech republic or the Baltic States. They will not do it. They are calculating and know it would be suicidal.

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spdy65 April 24 2014 at 1:03 AM

This ordeal is becoming somewhat comical, each day somebody sends somebody another "stern warning." What's next, double double dare's?

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3 replies
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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jsjt777 April 24 2014 at 1:29 AM

What is the purpose of international agreements/conventions? Why is a nation's territorial integrity inconsequential? Even though NATO has ruled out the use of military force to stop aggression against Ukraine, why openly telegraph such intention? In my humble view, such declaration is an encouragement to the aggressor!

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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!

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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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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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oncebanned April 24 2014 at 1:06 AM

With Obama and his administration in power, America is in the same position, resting on the next harsh words from our leader(?).

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Bob Sounder April 24 2014 at 1:56 AM

That tank looks like it is out of the 30's

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2 replies
rothhammer1 Bob Sounder April 24 2014 at 2:27 AM

Try world war one.

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Ukraine Lover Bob Sounder April 24 2014 at 3:19 AM

It is WWI era and is a museum piece that sits in a park now for children to play on. It is not part of the Ukraine miltary. Just a photo. I have seen this tank. They are in almost every eastern Ukraine city as memorials.

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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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gogh007 April 24 2014 at 2:59 AM

VP Biden in Kiev. What a joke. Not one diplomat from Europe has shown up but we must stick our arrogant USA noses in.

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