Pig snorts that eastern Ukraine referendum on autonomy should be postponed
Russian president also snorts for a halt to Ukrainian military operations against pro-Russia activists in eastern towns
Ian Traynor, Europe editor, Shaun Walker in Donetsk, Harriet Salem in Slavyansk and Paul Lewis in Washington
The Guardian, Thursday 8 May 2014
Link to video: Hague disputes the Pig's claim that Russian troops have pulled back from Ukraine's borderhttp://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2014/may/08/hague-putin-russian-troops-pulled-back-ukraine-border-video
The Kremlin beat a tactical retreat over a regional referendum following days of soaring tension that have left dozens dead and fed fears of a civil war in Ukraine.
Russia's president, Pig V. Putin, said the referendum being staged by pro-Russia separatists in parts of eastern Ukraine on Sunday should be postponed. If the referendum goes ahead, it will provide an argument for the region joining Russia as happened in Crimea in March.
Overt Russian support for the plebiscite could have triggered more substantive EU and US sanctions against Russia. Pig's snorts, following talks with the president of Switzerland in Moscow, looked likely to delay the imposition of a harsher round of economic penalties.
While Moscow has also opposed the holding of presidential elections in Ukraine on 25 May – a ballot strongly supported by the west – the Pig sounded more conciliatory, saying that the poll could be a step in the right direction.
The Russian leader insisted, however, that a presidential election should be preceded by constitutional changes in Ukraine aimed at federalising the country and handing greater powers to the regions, steps that would favour greater Russian influence over eastern Ukraine after the Kremlin annexed Crimea.
On Wednesday Ukraine's interim prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, dismissed the Pig's snorts to postpone the referendum as "hot air". Later the Ukrainian foreign ministry on Thursday said it was the "absolute priority" of the government of Ukraine to hold "a full-scale national dialogue with the participation of political forces, regional representatives and the public." But it declared: "Dialogue is impossible and unthinkable with terrorists."
The US cautiously welcomed the Pig's snorts but described them as insufficient. State department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: "We've made clear that we believe the proposed referendum is both illegal and illegitimate. We need to see more from the Pig than simply snorting for it to be postponed." She said Russia should use its influence to ensure the 25 May election proceeded peacefully.
Pig snorted that Russian troops had been pulled back from the Ukrainian border to their training grounds and locations for "regular exercises" but did not specify whether those were in areas near Ukraine. However, Nato and the White House said they had seen no indication of a change in the position of Russian military forces.
"We would certainly welcome a meaningful and transparent withdrawal" White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. "To date, there has been no evidence that such a withdrawal has taken place."
It remained unclear whether the pro-Russia gunmen who have taken over public buildings in a number of towns in the Donetsk region would drop their referendum plans. Outside the main headquarters of the separatist movement, an occupied government building in Donetsk, there was confusion at the Pig's snorts. A group of men guarding the entrance insisted that it was impossible Putin had offered support for the Kiev elections and asked to delay the referendum, and were certain it was a false story dreamed up by nefarious Ukrainian and western media.
"So Russia has abandoned us as well," said Natalia Medvedenko, 58. "Well we will just have to fight the fascists on our own. But I still don't quite believe it."
In rebel-held Slavyansk a member of the militia who gave his name as Rustem described Putin as a coward who was "afraid of losing his money". Loading sandbags into a truck, he said: "Instead of helping Russian people here, he is betraying us. He will pay for this with a revolution in Red Square. Russian people will not stand by and watch this happen."
The Russian government said this week that constitutional changes in Ukraine should be enacted later this year, putting the presidential election off until then.
That strategy is rejected by the west. Senior western officials pushed for the 25 May poll to go ahead and accused Moscow of working assiduously to foment chaos in order to invalidate the election. They described Sunday's secession referendum as a bogus poll that would be seen as illegitimate, while insisting that the national election should go ahead.
The Ukrainians "cannot be bullied out of having their elections by disorder that is deliberately fomented and coordinated from another country – in this case from Russia," the foreign secretary, William Hague, told the BBC after visiting Kiev and before Putin spoke. "They are entitled to have their democratic choice, to choose their own president."
Herman Van Rompuy, the senior EU official who chairs EU summits, delivered the same message. "The immediate goal is to support free and fair presidential elections. We agreed that further steps by Russia to destabilise the situation in Ukraine would lead to additional, far-reaching consequences," he said.
With the tug-of-war between Russia and the west over the fate of Ukraine focused on popular votes, John Kerry, the US secretary of state, described the separatist referendum as contrived and bogus.
"We flatly reject this illegal effort to further divide Ukraine," he said.
The Americans and Europeans are engaged in intensive talks over a third round of sanctions against Russia, targeting key industrial and economic sectors. Deciding to implement the next round of sanctions would mark a major escalation and entail Russian retaliation, hurting weak European economies.
Catherine Ashton, the top EU foreign policy official, was in Washington discussing the options, while the US Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, David Cohen, toured EU capitals to coordinate possible sanctions moves. "We are moving in a strong and systematic way to maximise the cost on Russia while minimising to the extent possible the spillover on other economies including those here in Europe," he said in Paris. Depending on the Pig's moves, however, the wider sanctions regime looked improbable. Hague emphasised the long-term cost to Moscow of its policies in Ukraine.
Meanwhile violence continued to simmer in Mariupol, an industrial port city in Ukraine's south-east. An hour-long gunfight reportedly broke out on the main road approaching the city from Berdyansk after rebels ambushed a bus carrying special forces. "The bus driver was wounded, one of the attackers was killed and another two killed," Ukraine's interior ministry said in a statement.
According to the ministry one of those captured was the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic defence minister Igor Kakidzanov. Ukrainian forces then reportedly "cleaned" the rebel held city administration building before abandoning it less than an hour later and allowing the rebels to retake control.
Elsewhere a prisoner exchange between rebel representatives and the government in Kiev appears to have led to the release of up to three rebel leaders in return for four Ukrainian security services officers beaten and paraded on television after their capture on 27 April. On of the rebels released is Pavel Gubarev, the leader of the self-declared Donetsk republic.
***************U.S., Ukraine Dismiss Change of Tack by the Pig
by Naharnet Newsdesk
08 May 2014, 06:39
Russian President Pig V. Putin snorted that he told rebels in Ukraine to halt plans for independence votes and said his troops have pulled back from the border, but his apparent change of heart received short shrift from Kiev and Washington.
Pig on Wednesday also hailed a planned May 25 presidential election in Ukraine -- previously condemned by the Kremlin -- as a "move in the right direction".
The surprise comments suggested a potential resolution of the conflict in Ukraine which has snowballed into Europe's worst standoff since the Cold War, as government troops battle to wrest back control of more than a dozen towns seized by the pro-Russia rebels.
Pig's new stance helped power rallies on financial markets in Moscow and New York. The United States and Europe have been preparing sanctions to hammer whole swathes of the Russian economy, which is teetering on recession, if the Ukraine presidential poll is scuppered.
But the White House and NATO said there was no sign of a Russian troop withdrawal, and Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Putin of "talking through his hat" about the independence referendums, because they were illegitimate to begin with.
Pig ordered an estimated 40,000 troops to Ukraine's border two months ago, but said: "We have pulled them back. Today they are not at the Ukrainian border but in places of regular exercises, at training grounds."
Pig snorted he told the separatists in Ukraine "to postpone the referendums planned for May 11 in order to create the conditions necessary for dialogue".
One of the separatist leaders, Denis Pushilin, said shortly after Pig's snorts that his proposal would be looked into on Thursday.
Pig snorted his declarations after meeting Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, current chief of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The Russian president's spokesman said afterwards that, if Ukraine now halted its military offensive and started dialogue, "then this can lead Ukraine out of a situation that at this stage is growing only worse".
But speaking to reporters on Air Force One, White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest said "to date" there has been "no evidence that such a withdrawal has taken place".
Washington would "certainly welcome a meaningful and transparent withdrawal", he added. "That's something that we have sought for quite some time."
Western governments have been increasingly warning of "war" over the worsening violence, and thrown their full weight behind the presidential election called by Kiev's interim leaders as a crucial step to political stability after a pro-Russian president fled.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in Kiev after meeting Ukraine's new leaders that Russia had deployed covert fighters and "enormous propaganda" as part of "unacceptable pressure" to block the poll.
U.S. President Barack Obama said last week that if Moscow prevented the election, he would order stepped-up "sectoral" sanctions. His administration moved Wednesday to cut trade benefits to Russia.
Pig has admitted his forces were active in Crimea ahead of the territory's annexation in March but denied their use in east Ukraine.
"I would like to stress that the presidential election planned in Kiev, while it is a move in the right direction, will not decide anything if all the citizens of Ukraine fail to understand how their rights are protected after the elections are held," he said.
Ethnic Russians who make up a large part of the population in the southeastern half of the ex-Soviet nation of 46 million had expressed fears about losing their language and other rights under a new pro-Western government that is likely to emerge after the vote.
Those concerns have fanned the insurgency, which is battling to win back strategic positions lost in recent days to the Ukrainian military.
Officials said 14 troops have been killed, 66 wounded and three helicopter gunships lost in the operation against the rebels, who are estimated to have lost more than 30 fighters.
Clashes and a resulting inferno in the southern port city of Odessa last Friday claimed another 42 lives, most of them pro-Russian activists, pushing the death toll over the past week to nearly 90.
Russia's Interfax news agency said pro-Moscow gunmen were trying to recapture the TV tower in the rebel-held town of Slavyansk from soldiers who overran it at the start of the week.
Ukrainian officials say they are moving cautiously towards the centre of Slavyansk, which has a population of more than 110,000, to avoid civilian casualties.
The interior ministry said it had information that the rebels had booby-trapped the buildings they occupied in the town with explosives.
Pig's snorts came ahead of commemorations of the Soviet victory over German forces in World War II on Friday, when he will oversee a display of military might in Moscow's Red Square.
Russian officials and state television have increasingly portrayed Kiev's actions as akin to Nazi-style fascism, while Ukraine sees a revival of Soviet aggression.
****************Ukraine separatists to go ahead with referendum despite the Pig's snorts for delay
So-called Donetsk People's Republic says vote will take place on Sunday despite Russian president's call for postponement
theguardian.com, Thursday 8 May 2014 11.33 BST
A referendum on autonomy in east Ukraine is to go ahead despite a call from the Russian president, Pig Putin, to delay the vote.
The coordinating committee of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic announced after a meeting on Thursday that it would hold the vote on Sunday as planned.
Pig on Wednesday had urged them to delay the referendum, which many fear could be a flashpoint for further violence between Ukrainian troops and the pro-Russia militants who have seized government buildings in about a dozen cities in eastern Ukraine.
The rejection came as the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, said Nato was treating the Pig's apparent tactical retreat with caution.
"The Nato assessment, in line with ours, is that we should approach the Pig's snorts with great caution," Tusk told a joint news conference with the visiting Nato secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
"This is not yet the moment when we can announce with enthusiasm that the crisis is over. We both hope that perhaps the Pig's snorts indicate some kind of a more optimistic scenario, but today it is too early for us to confirm that."
Rasmussen, commenting on assertions from the Pig that Russian troops had pulled back from the border with Ukraine, said: "We noted the Russian statement, but up to now we have not seen any signs that the troops are actually withdrawing."
Asked about a Russian foreign ministry statement that Rasmussen must be blind if he could not see signs of the Russian troops pullback, Rasmussen told reporters: "I have very good vision."
*************Mounting coffins lead to rising anger in Ukraine's fractious eastern regions
Numbers have replaced names as the body count in the east and south-east of Ukraine passed 50 in the last week
Harriet Salem in Slavyansk
theguardian.com, Wednesday 7 May 2014 19.24 BST
Four coffins laid outside the Church of Pentecost in rebel held Slavyansk's main square on Wednesday were a bitter reminder of the human cost of the mounting violence in the south-east and eastern regions of Ukraine.
The four men were killed in clashes between the rebel, pro-Russia forces and the Ukrainian army on 5 May near Semovka. Three of the bodies were reportedly members of the local militia, while the other was the driver of a truck which caught fire during the hour-long exchange of fire between the rebels and soldiers.
A few hundred locals gathered outside the church while family and friends gathered tearfully beside the coffins to say goodbye to their loved ones and to place carnations over the bodies, an Orthodox tradition. Camouflage-clad representatives from local militia units, Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders, also dropped by to pay their respects.
But the mourners grief was tainted by anger at the actions of the Ukrainian army. "Glory to Russia. Shame on America. Shame on the EU. Shame on Merkel and Obama," chanted some of crowd angrily as grievers filtered past the coffins in the background.
Numbers have quickly replaced names as the body count in Ukraine's east and south-east passed 50 in the last week. Last week, 42 pro-Russia demonstrators were killed in Odessa after being trapped inside a building which caught fire during clashes with pro-Ukraine protesters.
A few dozen more men are thought to have died in the last week during clashes between local militia and the Ukrainian army, which have raged on the outskirts of rebel-held Slavyansk. An anti-terror operation aimed at dislodging the rebels is now in its fifth day.
The deaths are fuelling pro-Russia sentiment in the region, where many see the Ukrainian army as an invading rather than liberating force. "It is impossible to turn back to Ukraine after the events in Slavyansk. We will not forgive the killing of our people," said 37-year-old housewife Irina, standing in the shade of a tree by the church.
A separate funeral was held on the outskirts of the city on Wednesday for Irina Boevets, a 30-year-old teacher. Her open coffin was carried from near the family home to the cemetery in a procession led by a priest carrying a cross aloft. The second civilian victim in just three days, Boevets was shot in the head by a stray bullet when she stepped out on to her balcony for a cigarette.
But as the day progressed there were signs of a glimmer of hope that negotiations could quell the violence that has rocked the region.
A prisoner exchange between rebel representatives and the government in Kiev appeared to have led to the release of up to three rebel leaders in return for four Ukrainian security service officers. One of the rebels released was Pavel Gubarev, the leader of the self-declared People's Republic of Donetsk.
Following their capture on 27 April, the Ukrainian officers were badly beaten, blindfolded and paraded to the Russian media in a macabre midnight press conference. Their release had not yet been confirmed by the authorities in Kiev and their condition was unknown.
The Russian president, Pig Putin, who has refused to recognise the government in Kiev that replaced Viktor Yanukovych's pro-Russia administration, also showed signs of compromise and called for the postponement of a regional referendum scheduled for Sunday on autonomy from Kiev.
But it is unclear how much influence Moscow can exert over the rebels. "He (Pig) is a coward. He is afraid of losing his money," Rustem, a member of the Slavyansk self-defence militia told the Guardian.
"Instead of helping Russian people here, he is betraying us. He will pay for this with a revolution in Red Square. Russian people will not stand by and watch this happen".
Solvyansk's self-appointed "people's mayor", Vyacheslav Ponomarev, said that the preparations for the referendum were underway and would only be halted if all involved parties negotiated an agreement.
Meanwhile violence continued to simmer in Mariupol, an industrial port city in Ukraine's south-east. An hour-long gunfight reportedly broke out on the highway approaching the city from Berdyansk after rebels ambushed a bus transporting special forces. "The bus driver was wounded, one of the attackers was killed and another two killed," Ukraine's interior ministry said in a statement.
According to the ministry, one of those captured was the Donetsk People's Republic self-appointed defence minister, Igor Kakidzanov.
Ukrainian forces then reportedly "cleaned" the rebel held city administration building before abandoning it less than an hour later and allowing the rebels' to retake control.
***************Young Ukrainians Brush Aside the Crisis and Voice Optimism About the Future
By ALISON SMALE
MAY 7, 2014
KIEV, Ukraine — The din of dire news from Ukraine’s restive east and south tends to obscure people like Nataliya Gumenyuk, a spiky-haired bundle of energy who co-founded an online television channel that broadcast the country’s revolution. In spite of the daily chaos, conflict and crisis, she and other 20- and 30-somethings here insist that Ukraine has a brighter future in store, and they say they can build it.
Ms. Gumenyuk, 30, covered the Arab Spring revolts for two years as a journalist, so she knows firsthand how even the most promising revolution can lead to bitter disappointment. Still, she says, “I have more optimism than I did half a year ago.”
Silver linings may seem hard to find in Ukraine these days. It has already lost one large chunk of territory to Russian encroachment and may lose more. Its economy and public finances are on life support. And the transitional government seems unable to restore order in the east, where pro-Russia insurgents have seized government buildings and threaten to derail national elections this month. Ukrainians like Ms. Gumenyuk see those elections as a crucial next phase of the revolution that unseated the pro-Russian president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, and that they hope will end more than 20 years of corrupt rule.
As messy as the aftermath has been, Ms. Gumenyuk and others profess satisfaction with the change in Kiev. What existed before was “feudalism,” she said; now, “my state perhaps cannot defend me, but it’s not acting against me, as it was before.”
Irena Karpa, 33, a writer and musician who is popular among young Ukrainians, shares the optimism, and the relief that her country was shaking off the old order. “For a very long time, I thought I was alone,” she said. “Finally, it all happened — people stopped being so passive.”
She took her children, ages 2 and 3, to the Maidan, the square in Kiev at the center of the protests that ultimately drove Mr. Yanukovych out, to explain what was happening, and she discovered to her delight that “I was by no means the most radical parent in our kindergarten.”
Her parents’ generation, she said, focused on their private lives as the Soviet Union came apart in 1991 and Ukraine gained what has proved to be a messy independence. Business was conducted on an “I know you, you know me” basis, she said, stunting the growth of private companies and institutions. Now “the Soviet Union finally collapsed,” Ms. Karpa said. “It is a pleasure to live in another historic moment.”
One lesson she had learned, she said, was the importance of voting. Like many of her contemporaries, she did not bother to cast a ballot in the 2010 election and regretted the result. “I say now, it was my own fault Yanukovych got elected,” she said. “Bad power is elected by good people who do not vote.”
Like dozens of other young Ukrainians heard from or interviewed in Kiev and Donetsk over the past two weeks, Ms. Karpa said she was determined now to shape her own future and speak her mind. Outside observers have noted the mood as well: Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, the Russian tycoon and political opponent of the Pig president was released in December after 10 years in prison, said he saw in Ukraine “a readiness to take responsibility for one’s fate.”
Mr. Khodorkovsky recently told civic activists at an arts center in Donetsk, a major city in the east, that such readiness distinguished Ukraine from Russia under Mr. Putin. And Dmitri Oreshkin, one of the liberal Russian commentators who accompanied Mr. Khodorkovsky, told the Ukrainians, “If you don’t like the people in power, you can change it.” He added, “We can’t.”
Almost everyone at the arts center said they thought the national elections would take place as scheduled on May 25, even though Russia and its proxies in the east want to disrupt or invalidate them. But everyone was nervous about what might happen along the way, especially on Friday, the annual holiday celebrating the victory over Nazi Germany in 1945 — a holiday that took on ominous overtones after Moscow started accusing the Kiev authorities of “fascism.”
Savik Shuster, a veteran of Russian television in the years when it was largely free of state control, moved in 2005 to Kiev, where he now hosts popular discussions with politicians and citizens that are broadcast live. He expressed as much confidence as anyone that, this time, Ukraine would secure its revolutionary gains and not watch them evaporate as it did after the peaceful Orange Revolution of 2004-5.
One reason, he and others said, was that blood had been shed this time and the Maidan was ready to revolt again if necessary. There are still hundreds of people camped in the square, almost all of them men.
Irina Minkova, 44, a web designer who was introduced at the Maidan Committee tent in the square as a spokeswoman, spoke fervently of defending the revolution’s gains and of presenting draft laws to Parliament that would put an end to chronic corruption and mismanagement. Mr. Yanukovych “has gone, but we haven’t succeeded in breaking his regime,” and must keep fighting to do so, she said.
Hanna Hopko, a young activist who showed Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. around the square in April, is one of several dozen people who have been working on the draft laws. The group, which includes lawyers and former government ministers, presented a package of proposals at the start of the month.
Ms. Gumenyuk said the paradox of the Maidan is not lost on Ukrainian security officials: With the police appearing corrupt and ineffectual, especially in the east, she said, “the only people ready to defend the state are their former enemies” like her, working to build a new Ukraine.