The deadly shootout near the eastern Ukrainian city Slaviansk during the early hours of Sunday has sparked a heated international war of words in the wake of a deal signed in Geneva aimed at averting a broader conflict in the region.
At around 2am (11pm GMT), four vehicles rolled up to a separatist checkpoint near Slaviansk where they opened fire, pro-Russian militants reported. Three people were killed and three more wounded, police in Ukraine’s capital Kiev confirmed.The exact details and who was responsible for the incident are still unclear.
The deaths were the first from armed clashes in eastern Ukraine since Russia, Ukraine, the European Union and the United States signed a truce agreement in Geneva on Thursday calling for all illegal armed groups to surrender their weapons and vacate public buildings in Ukraine.
Sunday’s shootout, however, triggered a war of words between Russia and Ukraine’s government, with each questioning the other’s commitment to the Geneva deal, which sought in part to bring an end to the worst crisis between the West and Russia since the end of the Cold War.
War of words
Pro-Russia separatists claim they were attacked by armed men from Ukraine’s nationalist Right Sector group, pointing to a business card belonging to the group that was allegedly found at the scene of the shooting as evidence. But the Right Sector has denied the accusations, blaming the shooting on Russian special forces instead.
“[This is a] blasphemous provocation from Russia – blasphemous because it took place on a holy night for Christians, on Easter night. This was clearly carried out by Russian special forces,” Right Sector spokesman Artem Skoropadsky asserted.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said, “The Russian side must be reminded about their obligations under the Geneva agreement to bring all necessary influence to bear on separatists to clear illegally held buildings, unblock roads, lay down arms and prevent any bloodshed.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry hit back, stating, “this provocation ... testifies to the lack of will on the part of the Kiev authorities to rein in and disarm nationalists and extremists.”
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov went even further, outright accusing Ukraine of violating the Geneva agreement.
“Steps are being taken – above all by those who seized power in Kiev – not only that do not fulfill, but that crudely violate the Geneva agreement,” he said.
Lavrov added that the shootout in Slaviansk proved that Ukraine’s government did not want to control “extremists”.
Following the shootout, Slaviansk’s self-appointed pro-Russia mayor placed a curfew on the town and appealed directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin to consider sending in peacekeeping troops.
Biden heads to Ukraine
Failure of the Geneva agreement could bring more bloodshed in eastern Ukraine, but may also prompt the United States to impose tougher sanctions on the Kremlin - with far-reaching consequences for many economies and importers of Russian energy.
US Vice President Joe Biden is due to meet with Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksander Turchinov, and Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk in Kiev on Tuesday during a two-day visit to the country.
Biden is expected to consult on developments in eastern Ukraine and discuss international efforts to strengthen Ukraine’s economy and assist Kiev “in moving forward on constitutional reform, decentralisation, anti-corruption efforts, and free and fair presidential elections on May 25th,” the White House said on Sunday.
But the shootings near Slaviansk are likely to make that task even harder, hardening the view of the many Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine that they cannot trust the government.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-04-21