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Ukraine's pro-Russian rebels won't abide by an international agreement reached yesterday

Obama has warned that if there’s no progress “additional consequences” will be imposed on Russia.

A masked pro-Russian activist guards looks through a window of the regional administration building seized  in Donetsk.
A masked pro-Russian activist guards looks through a window of the regional administration building seized in Donetsk.
Image: Sergei Grits/AP/Press Association Images

PRO-RUSSIAN REBELS in eastern Ukraine defiantly kept their grip on nearly a dozen towns today, refusing to abide by an international deal aimed at easing tensions unless the Western-backed government in Kiev stepped down first.

The challenge came only hours after an unexpected diplomatic breakthrough between Kiev, Moscow, Washington and Brussels after talks in Geneva to defuse the deepest East-West crisis since the end of the Cold War.

If the hard-won agreement collapses, as Western and Ukrainian leaders fear it might, the United States has said it will quickly increase sanctions on Russia, which it holds responsible for supporting the separatists and stoking the crisis.

The surprise agreement hammered out in Geneva called for “all illegal armed groups” to disarm and leave seized state buildings and squares.

In return they would benefit from an amnesty for actions over the past two weeks that brought Ukraine to the brink of civil war.

But in the main eastern city of Donetsk, where rebel gunmen wearing ski-masks still occupied a barricaded government building, there was defiance, with the Russian national anthem blared out through speakers.

Denis Pushilin, a prominent member of the self-declared Donetsk Republic, said he agreed that the buildings should be vacated, but that the leaders in Kiev must also leave the buildings “that they are occupying illegally since their coup d’etat” in February.

Ukraine A flag flutters in the wind over barricades at the regional administration building that has been seized earlier in Donetsk Source: Sergei Grits/AP/Press Association Images

In nearby Slavyansk, insurgents also remained defiant, holed up inside a seized police station with six armoured personnel carriers captured from the Ukrainian army on Wednesday still parked on the streets.

The Ukrainian government and many Western states strongly believe the occupations took place with the active support of elite Russian military units, allegations Moscow has denied.

To back their claims, Ukraine said it was holding 10 Russian “spies” it believes were sent to stir up unrest. It has also, according to the Russian airline Aeroflot, banned the entry of Russian males aged 16 to 60.

No high hopes

In Kiev, pro-Western protesters who have maintained street barricades since forcing the ouster of pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych two months ago vowed to stay put.

Valery Levchunets, a 46-year-old engineer said:

For us, for Ukraine, for the people on Maidan, it means nothing, it is a piece of paper. It is an agreement that was signed behind our backs.

Leaders also cautioned the deal could fail with US President Barack Obama, who has locked horns with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Ukraine’s future, expressing doubts that Moscow will deliver.

“I don’t think we can be sure of anything at this point,” Obama said after the talks.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told parliament on Friday he also had “no high hopes” of the agreement holding.

Obama warned that if there was no progress in days, “additional consequences” would be imposed on Russia on top of sanctions the United States and European Union have already imposed on Putin’s inner circle.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said the situation “remains extremely volatile” and he now expected all sides to “show their serious intention” to implement the agreement.

Putin claims ‘right’ to invade

Although Russian diplomats have embraced the Geneva agreement, Putin himself has given no immediate reaction.

On Thursday, the Russian leader warned that Ukraine was plunging into the “abyss” and he hoped he would not have to resort to his “right” to send in tens of thousands of troops massed on Ukraine’s border.

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He blames the turmoil on Kiev’s interim leaders, whose authority he does not recognise, and denies that Russian special forces are operating to support the eastern insurgency.

Analysts say that the agreement, if it works, could be a face-saving solution for Russia.

Kiev-based political scientist Andreas Umland said:

I can see why they (Russians) did this as they felt that the sanctions were quite close to being imposed, so they had to take a step back

“But I’m sceptical… I don’t think it’s all over”.

Anatoliy Gritsenko, a former Ukrainian defence minister who is a candidate for next month’s presidential election, wrote on his website:

Will the Geneva agreement calm the situation in Ukraine? My response is no. This accord doesn’t talk about Ukraine’s territorial integrity, nor demand that Russia lift its occupation of Crimea.

No timeline was given for the implementation of the agreement.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya said he would meet in Kiev with representatives from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) who are tasked with verifying the accord is taking effect.

- © AFP, 2014


Read: Agreed … Ukraine, Russia, the US and EU have reached a surprise deal in Geneva>

Read: Unmarked armoured vehicles carrying Russian flags spotted as Ukraine increases military action>

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