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Europe

Russia and West agree on steps to ease Ukraine crisis

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-04-18

Top diplomats from Russia, Ukraine, the US and the EU reached a breakthrough on Thursday in talks in Geneva by agreeing on steps to calm the crisis in Ukraine, including a call for militant groups to disarm.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (pictured above) said all four parties would work to establish a broad national dialogue to ensure that people’s rights were protected.

Lavrov said amnesty would be given to the pro-Russian protesters who took part in an uprising against the government in Kiev, except for those found guilty of committing serious crimes.

He also said that “all illegally occupied buildings” should be evacuated. “The aim is to restore dialogue … to unblock the situation,” Lavrov said.

The tentative agreement could put on hold the expanded economic sanctions the West had planned to impose on Russia if the talks proved fruitless. That would ease international pressure both on Moscow and nervous European Union nations that depend on Russia for their energy supplies.

In a separate news conference, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the Geneva meeting “represents a good day’s work”. But he emphasised that “words on paper” will have little meaning if they are not followed by actions on all sides to calm the situation in the former Soviet republic.

“We fully expect the Russians” to show they are serious about lowering tensions, he said. But if the US sees no improvement, it would have no choice but to impose increased sanctions against Russia, he added.

US President Brack Obama also expressed some scepticism in remarks made in the White House briefing room shortly after the deal in Geneva was struck.

"I don't think we can be sure of anything at this point," Obama said.

"The Russians signed on to that statement (in Geneva), and the question now becomes: Will, in fact, they use the influence that they've exerted in a disruptive way to restore some order?"

Pro-Russian militiamen in eastern Ukraine have so far shown no sign of relinquishing control of the government buildings they have seized in recent weeks despite Thursday's deal.

US condemns anti-Semitic leaflets

During the news conference Kerry also condemned as “grotesque” recent reports that leaflets had been distributed to Jewish residents of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, telling them to register with the self-proclaimed local authority or face deportation and the confiscation of their property.

Special report: 'seeing the reverse of what's on paper'

“In the year 2014, after all of the miles travelled and all of the journey of history, this is not just intolerable; it’s grotesque,” Kerry told reporters. “It is beyond unacceptable. And any of the people who engage in these kinds of activities, from whatever party or whatever ideology or whatever place they crawl out of, there is no place for that.“

According to US officials who saw the anti-Semitic leaflets – which evoke the era of czarist pogroms and Nazi-era persecution – they purported to come from the “Donetsk People’s Republic”, an unrecognised authority that declared independence earlier this month and seeks to join Russia.

The press office of the self-syled Donetsk republic denied any involvement.

Gulliver Cragg, FRANCE 24’s special correspondent in Ukraine, said that both the pro-Russian and pro-Kiev camp have accused each other of anti-Semitism throughout the crisis, making it hard to know who distributed the leaflets and for what purpose.

The incident has been dismissed by the local chief rabbi as nothing more than a "provocation".

"What happened, of course, smells of a provocation. As to who is behind it – that is an open question," rabbi Pinkhas Vyshedski said in comments published on the website of the Donetsk Jewish community.

Still tense on the ground

Reporting from the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, Cragg said that the Geneva deal so far seemed to have had little effect.

“What we have seen this evening is quite the reverse of what’s on paper,” he said.

Cragg said a group of pro-Russian separatists armed with batons had gone to the local airport, demanding that Ukrainian military planes be denied permission to land.

In the eastern city of Mariupol, the Ukrainian secret service had asked residents to evacuate the city centre on Thursday while they pursued an armed “anti-terrorist” operation to flush militants out of the occupied city hall.

“Whether that armed evacuation of the city hall goes ahead will be a test for whether Ukraine feels that it needs to suspend this ‘anti-terrorist’ operation as part of the bargain, according to the agreement that was in reached in Geneva,” he said.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)
 

Date created : 2014-04-17

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