Pro-Russian rebels kept their grip on seized government buildings in Ukraine on Friday, a day after Kiev struck a deal with Russia and the West aimed at easing the crisis in the ex-Soviet republic.
As part of the surprise agreement hammered out in talks in Geneva on Thursday, “all illegal armed groups” were due to disarm and leave seized state buildings.
But the pro-Kremlin gunmen who have overrun nearly a dozen towns and cities across Ukraine’s Russian-speaking southeast showed little sign of leaving.
In Slavyansk, scores of gunmen remained holed up inside a police station and manned a barricade of tyres outside.
Six armoured personnel carriers captured by the gunmen from the Ukrainian Army on Wednesday during a failed operation to oust the militants remained parked on the streets, a humiliating reminder to the pro-Western interim government in Kiev that it was incapable of dislodging them by force.
In the main regional city of Donetsk, militants underlined their defiance by blaring the Russian national anthem.
The actions over the next couple of days in Ukraine’s southeast will put to the test the deal struck by Kiev, Moscow, Washington and Brussels that aims to ease the worst East-West crisis since the end of the Cold War.
US President Barack Obama, who has locked horns with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Ukraine’s future, reacted cautiously to the agreement.
“We are not going to count on it until we see it,” he said, warning that if progress was not evident within days, “additional consequences” would be imposed on Russia on top of sanctions that Washington has already imposed targeting Putin’s inner circle.
The Geneva agreement laid out concrete steps to restore security in Ukraine, which was plunged into crisis in late February when months of protests culminated with the overthrow of the country’s pro-Kremlin president, leading to Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula.