There were 14 troops killed, eastern Ukraine, by the pro-Russian rebels when they shot down a military helicopter. A general, an adviser to President Vladimir Putin accused the U.S. of pushing the world toward war through proxies in Kiev.
The insurgents shot down a transport chopper (an Mi-8) with a shoulder-fired missile as heaving fighting in Slovyansk about 100 miles from the Russian border, Speaker Oleksandr Turchynov told parliament today. At the same time, they attacked a military base near Luhansk, according to the National Guard.
Russia demanded Ukraine to suspend its “fratricidal war” and withdraw its troops from the mainly Russian-speaking regions of the east after separatists suffered the most casualties of their campaign. Western countries should use their influence to stop Ukraine from “sliding into a national catastrophe,” the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said on its website.
As Ukraine geared up air patrols over Donetsk yesterday while a convoy of pro-Russian rebels moved through the eastern city with an anti-aircraft gun in tow, regrouping after dozens were killed in a government operation to retake the main airport.
President-elect Petro Poroshenko is determined to wipe out the insurgents and re-establish order prior to winning office on May 25 with 54.7 percent of the vote. It appears that he has to stabilize an economy that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development expects to shrink 7 percent this year while reclaiming swaths of territory captured by pro-Russian militias.
An economic adviser to Putin, Sergei Glazyev, said the U.S. controls the new Ukrainian government and is seeking to use the conflict to start a “third world war.”
“This can’t be called anything but madness – the bombing of cities, airports, escalation of unmotivated violence against their own people,” Glazyev told reporters today in the Kazakh capital Astana.
Putin flew to Astana to sign a treaty with his counterparts from Kazakhstan and Belarus creating a trading bloc of more than 170 million people to challenge the U.S. and the European Union. Two other former Soviet states, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia, plan to join the Eurasian Economic Union the year.
Russia reduces the number of soldiers stationed at Ukraine's border to about 20,000 from about 50,000, the press service of Ukraine’s border guards said yesterday. The Russian troops left behind military assets, the possibility to return, the service said, with no specifics.
Even so, a “threatening, capable” Russian force remains “poised along the Ukrainian border,” Colonel Steve Warren, a spokesman for the Pentagon, told reporters yesterday.
“Russia’s goal was and is to keep Ukraine so unstable that we accept everything that the Russians want,” Poroshenko said in an interview with German paper Bild. “I have no doubt that Putin can end the fighting with his direct influence.”
Ukrainian forces have used aviation and artillery assets to “destroy” the rebel unit that shot down the helicopter today, the Interior Ministry’s National Guard unit said in a statement, without explanation.
While the violence continues, Ukraine is hesitant to accept an EU proposal to reach a debt and price deal for natural gas from Russia and avert a threatened shutoff as soon as June 3. Russia, the world’s largest supplier of the fuel, has twice cut its gas flows to Ukraine since Putin came to power in 2000, leading to shortages throughout Europe.
Based on EU plan, Ukraine’s state Energy Company, NAK Naftogaz Ukrainy, would pay Russian gas exporter OAO Gazprom (GAZP) $2 billion by May 30 and with the additional amount of $500 million by June 7. That would, partially, cover Ukraine’s outstanding debt, which Gazprom Chief Executive Officer Alexey Miller said yesterday reached $5.2 billion by June 7.
Ukraine’s government is “ready to clean the bill” and “pay the arrears,” Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said in Berlin yesterday. The country is seeking market-based price of $250-350 per 1,000 cubic meters as a precondition, he said.
Gazprom raised the price charges Ukraine, which relies on the Russian exporter for half of its gas, by 81 percent to $485 per 1,000 cubic meters after Kremlin-backed President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country in February.
So far, 15 percent of Europe’s gas supply flows from Russia through Ukraine, which is counting on $17 billion from the International Monetary Fund to avoid bankruptcy. Talks will resume in Berlin tomorrow, though a breakthrough is unlikely, according to Ukraine’s Energy Ministry.
“Russia is now our enemy,” First Deputy Minister Yuri Zyukov told reporters in Kiev. “It dictates and speaks in ultimatums we can’t accept.”
The standoff is threatening to escalate into a full-blown crisis, “undermining the sustainability of Russian gas transit to the EU through Ukraine,” Alexander Kornilov, an energy analyst at Alfa Bank in Moscow, said in an e-mailed note.
“Ukraine’s position indicates that the light at the end of the tunnel in Russia-Ukraine-EU gas discussions is still very far away,” Kornilov said.
EU leaders meeting in Brussels this week decided to put off further sanctions on Russia as Putin said he’ll work with Ukraine’s new leader and pulled back some troops.
French President Francois Hollande told reporters after the summit ended: “The possibility of de-escalation is here, finally. But we still need this strict reminder.”
In their final statement, the leaders said the EU was working on “possible targeted measures” and agreed “to continue preparations” in case further steps are needed.
After Putin annexed Ukraine’s southern Crimea region in March, the UE has blacklisted 83 Russian and Ukrainian officials and two companies.
President Barack Obama, who imposed U.S. sanctions on people close to Putin, called Poroshenko May 27 to congratulate him on his victory and offer “the full support of the United States,” according to a White House statement.
President Obama told NPR News in an interview scheduled to air today about his plans to meet with Poroshenko and discuss about Crimea.
Poroshenko said after his victory that government forces won’t quit until separatists are completely defeated.
The president-elect said: “They won’t last two or three months. They’ll last a