Ukraine President Threatens Military Operation as Unrest Grows
Kiev – Ukraine’s president on Monday threatened military action after pro-Russian separatists occupying government buildings in the east ignored an ultimatum to leave and another group of rebels attacked a police headquarters in the troubled region. Acting president Oleksander Turchinov also held out the possibility of a referendum on the future shape of the Ukrainian state, partly addressing demands made in the largely Russian-speaking east for more control over their local affairs.
As the 9 a.m. deadline issued by authorities in Kiev expired, a Reuters reporter in the flashpoint city of Slaviansk, where armed men had seized two government buildings, saw nothing to show the rebels were obeying the ultimatum. At least 100 pro-Russian separatists attacked the police headquarters in the city of Horlivka on Monday, a witness told Reuters, and video footage on Ukrainian television showed an ambulance treating people apparently injured in the attack.
In all, separatists have seized government buildings and security facilities in 10 cities. Angered by the death of a state security officer and the wounding of two comrades near Slaviansk, Turchinov warned rebels that an anti-terrorist operation involving the army would begin unless they laid down their arms, and that the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine “will soon be stabilized”.
His warning raised fears of possible Russian military intervention, but there were no signs of any Ukrainian forces in Slaviansk on Monday and no sign of an anti-terrorist operation. Outside the city council offices stood a group of about 12 armed men in matching camouflage fatigues, with black balaclavas, one of whom was holding a Russian flag.
They said they were Cossacks but did not say where from. One told Reuters: “The borders between Ukraine, Russia and Belarus are artificial and we are here to take them away.” (Reuters)