In a televised speech Sunday, Ukraine’s acting president Oleksandr Turchynov vowed Kyiv will not let Russia take over eastern Ukraine after its annexation of the Crimean peninsula last month. He said he will grant amnesty to any pro-Russian separatists who lay down their weapons by Monday.
He accused Moscow of carrying out a war against Ukraine, once part of its Soviet empire.
“Blood has been shed in a war which the Russian Federation has unleashed out against Ukraine. The aggressor has not stopped but continues to incite unrest in Ukraine’s east. It’s not a war between Ukrainians; it’s an artificially created confrontation, whose goal is to see Ukraine weakened and destroyed as a country. But in the end it will weaken our enemies. Russia today has drawn condemnation from the entire civilized world,” said Turchynov.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry immediately dismissed Turchynov’s order to launch the operation as “criminal” and called for its immediate review by the U.N. Security Council.
Turchynov’s speech came hours after Ukrainian special forces and pro-Russian militia exchanged gunfire in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk, with both sides reporting casualties.
Ukraine’s interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said a security service officer was killed and another five wounded in the latest skirmish in the aftermath of Moscow’s Crimea take-over last month. At least one pro-Russian activist was also reported killed in the gunfire and two injured.
Russia draws condemnation
The escalation came a day after pro-Russian gunmen took over the Slovyansk police station, and government facilities in the largely Russian-speaking cities of Donetsk and Kramatorsk.
U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, told ABC’s This Week the unrest in eastern Ukraine “bears the tell-tale signs of Moscow’s involvement.”
In a statement, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was “extremely concerned” about the increased tensions in the region. He described it a “concerted campaign of violence by pro-Russian separatists” seeking to destabilize Ukraine.
Fogh Rasmussen called on Russia to “de-escalate the crisis” and pull back thousands of troops it massed on its border with Ukraine.
On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in a telephone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, warned there would be additional consequences beyond sanctions already imposed against Russian officials if Moscow did not move to ease tensions in eastern Ukraine.
Lavrov said the crisis was caused by the Kyiv government ignoring the “legitimate needs and interests” of eastern Ukraine’s Russian-speaking population.
A White House National Security Council spokeswoman said Saturday the United States is concerned that Russian-speaking separatists – with apparent support from Moscow – are “inciting violence and sabotage” against the Ukrainian state.
Moscow has repeatedly denied any role in Ukraine’s unrest, which erupted in full two months ago when then-president Viktor Yanukovych fled the country amid protests in Kyiv.
Top diplomats from Russia, the United States, Ukraine and the European Union are set to hold emergency talks on the crisis April 17 in Geneva. White House officials say U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Kyiv April 22.