A fledgling Ukrainian government is locked in a tense standoff with its former Soviet neighbor over allegations that the Russian government has deployed secret forces into Ukraine’s eastern region in an attempt to incite a separatist movement.
Supposed pro-Russian demonstrators have occupied government buildings in eastern Ukraine and have so far ignored a deadline set by the local government to surrender. Oleksandr Turchynov, the acting president of Ukraine, had given the activists until 2 a.m. Eastern time Monday to stand down or face “a full-scale anti-terrorist operation.”
The separatists so far have faced no consequences for their inaction. The new Ukrainian government and its Western backers insist the protesters are fueled directly by the Russian government.
Turchynov proposed that a joint U.N. peacekeeping mission join local forces in quelling the protests, in an attempt to show the world the legality of his actions, according to state news service Ukrinform. He reportedly issued a request directly to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon by phone.
“We do not object to launching a joint anti-terrorist operation in the east with your assistance. Then, experts and observers will be able to witness the legitimacy and legality of our actions," Turchynov said, according to Ukrinform. "The Russian Federation is sending to the east of our country special units that commit armed seizures of administrative buildings and their actions threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of our citizens."
The occupation of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions appears to be a repetition of the reported Russian occupation of the Crimean peninsula in March, Turchynov said.
"We cannot leave our people one-on-one with armed terrorists who threaten their life and health and are trying to break the country into pieces,” he said.
Meanwhile, the European Union continues to try to strengthen ties with the Ukrainian government – a move that sparked protests in late 2013 when then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych balked at new EU accords in favor of stronger ties with Russia.
The EU Foreign Affairs Council announced Monday it has cleared new tariff cuts for Ukraine, saving it as much as 500 million euros in exports to the EU. The deal is expected to take effect in late April or early May.
The Russian government asserts the protests in Ukraine are organic. A reported activist told Russian state news service RIA Novosti, "We aren’t acting on Kiev’s demand because we believe it to be a provocation.”
The U.S. State Department on Sunday issued a sequel to last month's 10-point fact sheet, outlining further Russian claims and discounting them as false. This latest list, entitled “Russian Fiction The Sequel: 10 More False Claims About Ukraine,” states the Russian government has indeed deployed intelligence agents to Ukraine, specifically to incite, organize and pay people to act as local protesters claiming allegiance to the Russian Federation.
The State Department also denies claims that such separatists enjoy “broad support” in eastern Ukraine, that ethnic Russians or any other minority are under threat and that Russia is not holding Ukraine hostage with threats of cutting off energy supplies.
The Russian government, on the other hand, says CIA Director John Brennan traveled to Ukraine recently to meet with local law enforcement officials and help organize “a special operation” against the pro-Russian protesters.
The CIA would not comment on Brennan’s travel activities, The Associated Press reports. A spokesman said the “claim that director Brennan encouraged Ukrainian authorities to conduct tactical operations inside Ukraine is completely false."
The United Nations on Sunday claimed the situation in Ukraine is deteriorating, and the likelihood of further violence will grow until both sides can agree on a peace dialogue.
Officials from the EU, U.S., Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet in Geneva this Thursday to discuss the ongoing situation. The Russian government, however, has said the protests in February that led to the toppling of ousted Ukrainian President Yanukovych, himself pro-Russian, resembled a military coup, and that any further dialogue would depend on decisions Kiev is making "under the auspices of Washington."