17 Apr 2014

US, EU and Russia urge ‘de-escalation’ of crisis in Ukraine

After international talks in Geneva, the Russian foreign minister and the US Secretary of State both call for “de-escalation” in Ukraine and agree to expand an international monitoring mission.

Russia‘s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said all sides had agreed to “de-escalate” the situation in Ukraine, including refraining from violence.

His comments came after meetings in Geneva with foreign ministers from Ukraine as well as the United States and European Union. He said the group would continue to meet to mediate the crisis in Ukraine.

The situation in Ukraine has spiralled out of control in recent days, after pro-Russian separatist uprisings in a number of towns in the east. Three of the protesters died in clashes in Mariupol late on Wednesday.

The Ukrainian government, and indeed most other international players in the crisis including Nato and the United States, believe Russia has at least a hand in encouraging the protesters, which the country itself has denied.

Following the Geneva talks, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that all parties had agreed the need for everyone to refrain from the use of “violence, intimidation or provocative actions.”

Mr Lavrov also said “illegal armed groups” should be disbanded, and occupied buildings should be handed back, a call echoed by his US counterpart.

According to Mr Kerry, the EU, US and Russia had committed to support an OSCE special monitoring mission which is already at work in Ukraine, including by providing monitors directly. He said the mission will now “undertake a special role in assisting the Ukrainian authorities in the immediate implementation of de-escalation measures.”

Beyond unacceptable

Mr Kerry also said all parties had “strongly condemned and rejected all expressions of extremism, racism and religious intolerance including antisemitism.”

He went on to describe how in the last few days Jewish people in unspecified city had been sent notices indicating that they should identify themselves, with the implied accompanying threat that those who didn’t would “suffer the consequences, one way or another.”

Mr Kerry commented that: “in the year 2014.. after all the journey of history, this is not just intolerable, it is grotesque – it is beyond unacceptable”, and said all sides had joined in condemnation “of that kind of behaviour.”

He went on to say that there had also been threats made of imminent attacks against the Russian orthodox church.

Talking tough

The Russian foreign minister’s conciliatory rhetoric to the international community contrasted with comments earlier from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was addressing his domestic audience in his annual televised phone-in.

While Mr Putin said he “hoped” Russia would not have to use military force in Ukraine, he also did not rule it out. He said Kiev had deployed tanks, fighter jets and rockets against protesters and, in a rhetorical question directed at the Ukrainian authorities, asked: “Are you crazy, or what?”

He added: “This is another very grave crime by Kiev’s current leaders. I hope that they are able to realise what a pit, what an abyss the current authorities are in and dragging the country into.”

Separately, Mr Putin answered a question from Edward Snowden, the contractor wanted in the United States for leaking details of the NSA’s electronic surveillance programme. Mr Snowden has been granted refuge in Russia, to the displeasure of Washington.

Putin, who as a young man served as a Soviet intelligence agent in then-Communist East Germany, raised a laugh in the studio by saying he and Snowden had something in common.

“You are an ex-agent,” he said to Snowden, who was not there in person but was shown in a video clip. “I used to have ties to intelligence.”