July 24, 2014
Ukraine separatists reject diplomatic deal
Armed pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine said they were not bound by an international deal ordering them to disarm and were looking for more assurances about their security before leaving the public buildings they are holding.
The agreement, brokered by the United States, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union in Geneva on Thursday offered the best hope to date of defusing a stand-off in Ukraine that has dragged East-West relations to their lowest level since the Cold War.
Ukraine said it was preparing a law to give the separatists amnesty although the drive to root them out would continue.
The agreement requires all illegal armed groups to disarm and end occupations of public buildings, streets and squares but with the separatists staying put in the east and Ukrainian nationalist protesters showing no sign of leaving their - unarmed - camps in the capital's Maidan Square, it was not clear which side would be willing to move first.
Enacting the agreement on the ground though will be difficult, because of the deep mistrust between the pro-Russian groups and the Western-backed government in Kiev, which this week flared into violent clashes that killed several people.
In Slaviansk, a city that has become a flashpoint in the crisis after men with Kalashnikovs took control last weekend, leaders of the pro-Russian groups met inside one of the seized buildings to decide how to respond to the Geneva agreement.
Anatoly, one of the armed separatists who have taken over police headquarters, said: "We are not leaving the building, regardless of what statements are made, because we know what is the real situation in the country and we will not leave until our commander tells us to."
Two Ukrainian military aircraft circled Slaviansk several times on Friday. In front of the mayor's office, men armed with automatic rifles peered over sandbags which had been piled higher overnight. Separatists remained in control of the city's main streets, searching cars at checkpoints around the city.
The self-declared leader of all the region's separatists said he did not consider his men to be bound by the agreement.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov "did not sign anything for us, he signed on behalf of the Russian Federation," Denis Pushilin, head of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, told journalists in Donetsk, the regional capital.
First, he said, the prime minister and acting president who took power in February should quit their offices, as they took them over "illegally".
But Alexei, another separatist in Slaviansk acknowledged that the Geneva talks had changed the situation: "It turns out Vova doesn't love us as much as we thought." said Alexei, using a diminutive term for Putin, who is viewed by many of the separatist militias as their champion and protector.
In the capital, Kiev, people on the Maidan, the local name given to Independence Square which was the centre of protests that eventually toppled Yanukovich, said the barricades would not come down until after the May 25 presidential election.
"People will not leave the Maidan. The people gave their word to stay until the presidential elections so that nobody will be able to rig the result. Then after the election we'll go of our own accord," said 56-year-old Viktor Palamaryuk from the western town of Chernivtsi.
"Nobody will take down our tents and barricades," said 34-year-old Volodymyr Shevchenko from the southern Kherson region. "If the authorities try to do that by force, thousands and thousands of people will come on to the Maidan and stop them."