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Violence spreads from Eastern Ukraine to Odessa

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Growing more dangerous by the minute, violence spread from Eastern Ukraine to the Black Sea port of Odessa, killing at least 40 Ukrainian loyalists in an inferno that engulfed a trade union building. Acting 49-year-old Ukrainian Presdient Oleksandr Turchinov also acknowledged that a helicopter was downed in Slovyansk by Russian separatists with a surface-to-air missile, killing at least two Urkainian soldiers. Turchinov claimed that insurgents suffered significant casualties as the Ukrainian military made a new push to reclaim Ukrainian buildings and towns seized by pro-Russian separatists seeking close ties with Moscow. “Our security forces are fighting mercenaries of foreign states, terrorists and criminals, “ said Oleksandr, sending a loud call for help to President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington.

Insisting that Ukrainian military regained control from insurgents, terrorists and criminals, Oleksandr painted the problem a one of foreign invaders in Ukraine. Both sides trade propaganda about the spiraling civil war. Pro-Russian forces claim the only foreign fighters come from the U.S. and European Union that backed a Feb. 22 coup toppling the duly elected government of now exiled Viktor Yanukovich. Ukrainian officials accuse foreigners, mainly Russians and pro-Russian-speaking Ukrainians, of fomenting unrest in Eastern Ukraine. Kiev’s post-revolutionary leaders, while enjoying U.S. and EU backing, lack the support in Eastern Ukraine, home to the country’s most industrialized cities. Ukrainian officials insist that forces encountered “highly skilled foreign military men,” said Turinov, insisting the Russian army was directly involved in fighting Kiev’s forces.

With a population of 125,000, Slovyansk was bound to get sucked into the battle between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists. Turchinov insists that the Ukrainian army recaptured key Slovyansk checkpoints around the city, while pro-Russians separatists claim they controlled the city. Moving the violence 550 kilometers [330 miles] to the Black Sea port of Odyessa in the Southeast, Turchinov sent a loud message to Putin that he intends to seize back control. Responding to new Ukrainian government attacks, Moscow sounded pessimistic about prospect for peace. Saying that Ukrainian aggression, “effectively destroyed the last hope for the implementation of the Geneva agreements,” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov signaled that Russia was losing its patience. When Russian lost it patience in 2008, it annexed South Ossetia and Abkhazia, 20% of Georgia.

Meeting at the White House, President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to reassure Moscow that the U.S. and EU backed a the peace plan negotiated in Geneva April 17. Two weeks later violence spread from Slovyansk to the historic Black Sea port of Odessa. As civil war spreads across Ukraine, it’s clear that Kiev’s new post-revolutionary leaders don’t have the backing of all Ukrainians, certainly not the ones living in Eastern Ukraine. Since seizing Kiev from Yanukovich Feb. 22, pro-Russian factions in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine want nothing to do with Kiev’s pro-Western government. Instead of dreaming up new sanctions in Washington, Obama and Merkel should pressure Turchinov and Yatsenyuk to resign, paving way to better relations. So far, Washington has shown no signs accepting the Russian perspective that Kiev lacks legitimacy.

Sending tanks and helicopters to reclaim Ukrainian territory, Turchinov and Yatsenyuk roll the dice, hoping Putin faces enough sanctions, restraining him from taking action in Eastern Ukraine. Apart from seizing Crimea March 1, Putin has shown restraint in Eastern Ukraine. Upping he violence risks a new response from Putin that has some 40,000 Russian troops stationed along the Ukrainian border. “We are ready to negotiate with protesters and their representatives,” said Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, giving the impression the Ukrainian military was in control. Meeting fierce resistance in Slovyansk, no one in the Ukrainian military believes that pro-Russian separatists are ready to roll over. Telling Russian-backed insurgents that they’re surrounded and should surrender in Slovyansk, the Ukrainian military has little confidence it can prevail in Eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine’s violence in Eastern Ukraine signals that Kiev’s post-revolutionary leaders believe it’s now or never to recapture lost territory. Despite warnings from Putin, Turchinov and Yatsenyuk ordered what’s left of the Ukrainian military to reclaim lost territory and government offices. Moscow views Ukraine’s armed fight as voiding the April 17 Geneva agreement calling for a respite from violence on both sides. While the U.S. and EU initially backed Ukraine’s pro-Western revolution, they understand the depth of Moscow’s objections. Meeting in Washington, Merkel hoped to convince Obama to resist calls for military escalation from conservatives on Capitol Hill and work with Moscow and the EU to find more acceptable leaders. Since the Feb. 22 anti-Russian coup violated Ukraine’s sovereignty, the U.S., EU and Moscow must find leaders that serve all of Ukraine’s factions.

About the Author

John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.

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