Ukraine’s Western-backed leader on Tuesday accused Russia of trying to enflame the country’s southeast but said he would proceed cautiously against pro-Kremlin militias consolidating control in the volatile region.
Oleksandr Turchynov’s impassioned charges against Ukraine’s historic master came only hours after a “frank and direct” exchange on the crisis between US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
But the heated phone conversation appeared to break no new ground as the Kremlin chief continued to reject any links to the Russian-speaking gunmen who have occupied town halls and police stations in nearly 10 cities across Ukraine’s struggling eastern rust belt since the start of the month.
European foreign ministers meanwhile held back on unleashing punishing economic sanctions against Russia in hopes that EU-US mediated talks Thursday in Geneva between Moscow and Kiev could help deescalate the most explosive East-West standoff since the Cold War.
But the pressure that the ex-Soviet state’s interim leaders are feeling from Moscow is now also starting to reverberate from their supporters in Kiev who had toppled a detested pro-Kremlin regime in February after months of protests that sought to link up Ukraine firmly to the West.
Displeasure at Ukrainian forces’ thus-far helpless efforts to reassert control and anxiety over their country’s possible breakup saw several hundred nationalists set fire to tyres outside the parliament building on Monday evening demanding the interior minister’s resignation.
Turchynov appeared to address that discontent today as he stressed that his “full-scale anti-terrorist operation” that aims to dislodge the pro-Russian gunmen from their increasingly entrenched positions must proceed “gradually, responsibly and in a measured way”.