The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense has taken the phone off the hook, or at least that’s how it appears to the Pentagon.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has tried repeatedly to contact his counterpart in Kiev, primarily to urge restraint against turning the Ukrainian military on its own people. Part of the complication could come from Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych’s decision Wednesday to fire his former military chief in favor of a replacement.
The Ukrainian military has a history of restraint for domestic conflicts, and so far has not directly engaged protesters, the Pentagon states. Ukrainian troops have been dispatched to military facilities that house weaponry to prevent raiding by protesters, according to the Ukrainian government.
Hagel last spoke directly with the Ukrainian military chief in December, when he urged him to continue restraint.
“Secretary Hagel has been trying, himself, since earlier this week,” said spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby on Thursday. “They are not involved in the violence against protesters. We certainly hope that remains the case.”
The U.S., European Union and other international observers have been concerned by increasing reports of automatic weapons fire in clashes between Ukrainian security forces and the local protesters. The chief of the domestic intelligence agency says the activists have as many as 1,500 firearms they stole from the government.
Other senior officials, however, have been able to make contact with the Ukrainian leadership. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Yanukovych by phone Tuesday evening following the latest surge in deadly clashes. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also spoke with the Ukrainian president shortly before the European Union levied sanctions against those in his government believed to have committed human rights atrocities.
EU High Representative Catherine Ashton called on Yanukovych to engage in discussion with members of the opposition to quell the violence and establish some sort of political transition.
“The European Union remains ready to support Ukraine in the process of political dialogue. Our offer of political association and economic integration remains on the table, as well as our commitment to enhance people to people contacts,” she said in a statement shortly after the announcement of the new sanctions. “We call on all sides to engage in an inclusive and meaningful dialogue to de-escalate the situation and find a political solution. The prime responsibility for starting such a dialogue lies with the president.”