Tensions are running high in eastern Ukraine. Here’s what you need to know.
Update 4/17/2014: Ukraine, Russia, the EU and the US have reached a deal at a Geneva summit, agreeing to “de-escalate” the crisis, the BBC reports.
As part of the deal, all illegal military formations must be disbanded, and groups must disarm and leave any occupied buildings.
There will also be an amnesty for all anti-government protesters.
The process will be preceded over by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
Here’s a photo of the agreement, courtesy of AFP correspondent Jonathan Fowler via Twitter:
This is what lead up to the crisis:
- Well-organized pro-Russian separatists seized gov’t buildings in Ukraine.
- Ukraine has commenced “anti-terrorist” operations to crack down on separatists.
- Russia has 40,000 troops massed at the Ukrainian border.
- Ukrainian military vehicles seized by pro-Russian militants
Over the weekend of April 12, pro-Russian forces seized government buildings in coordinated actions across several cities, including Donetsk, Slovyansk, and Luhansk.
Russian flags were raised, and the groups called for a referendum to make the respective regions independent of Ukraine.
While some of these forces appear to be ragtag units, others have bulletproof vests, Russian-made weapons, and uniforms without insignia – proof that they have Russian support, according to the State Department.
The video below from the Ukrainian newspaper Slavgorod shows such well-armed forces occupying a building in Slovyansk:
Ukrainian government ultimatum
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government issued an ultimatum to pro-Russian forces, demanding that they give up their weapons by 06:00 GMT today.
The UN Security Council held a rush meeting over the ultimatum at Russia’s request last night, where the latter warned that Ukrainian use of force against separatists could lead to an “irreversible turn for the worse.”
While the deadline came and went, Ukrainian forces have now rallied and commenced “anti-terrorist” operations, sending army units to retake government buildings.
The interim president, Oleksander Turchinov, said he is open to a referendum on the federalization of Ukraine, which could mean more autonomy but not independence (or integration with Russia) for eastern regions.
What many fear is that the situation will play out just like it did in Crimea: as tensions escalate, Russia will complete a rapid takeover in order to “de-escalate” the situation and protect Russian speakers in the region.
There are already 40,000 troops massed along the eastern and northern borders, complete with air units and auxiliary forces needed for an invasion, according to the British UN ambassador.
That’s in addition to the 25,000 Russia troops already present in Crimea.
Four-way talks between Russia, Ukraine, the US and the EU are scheduled for April 17, although Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that Ukrainian use of force against separatists could foil the peace process.