Ukraine’s new leader vows to crush insurgency
Ukraine's future pro-Western president vowed on Wednesday to quickly crush a bloody eastern insurgency even as his country faced a fresh crisis with the looming cutoff of Russian gas.
The ex-Soviet state’s industrial hub of Donetsk resembled a ghost town after a devastating two-day firefight with pro-Russian separatists who had seized the local airport left more than 40 rebels dead.
Caught up in the drama were four European civilian observers who were seized at a Donetsk region roadblock apparently set up by the rebels on Monday and had not been heard from since.
European leaders called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to help his smaller western neighbour by using his leverage with the rebels to end a seven-week resistance that has claimed around 200 lives.
But Moscow has thus far failed to reach out to Petro Poroshenko — a 48-year-old billionaire candy maker elected by a resounding margin on Sunday — and cautioned Ukraine that its stepped-up military offensive could only backfire.
Poroshenko told Germany’s Bild daily ahead of a visit to Berlin on Wednesday by Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk that Ukraine had simply run out of options and could no longer put up violence threatening its very existence as a sovereign state.
“We will no longer let these terrorists kidnap people and kill them,” said Poroshenko.
“We will end this terror. A real war is being waged against our country.”
Some analysts think Kiev has ratcheted up its campaign believing that the 40-point margin of Poroshenko’s victory will make it hard for Moscow to question his legitimacy and order its troops to “protect” the east’s ethnic Russians.
The Kremlin reaffirmed on Wednesday that it “respected” the will of Ukraine’s voters but also denounced the army’s “provocative” actions as another step toward strife and discontent.
“We are constantly saying that these provocative military actions are only leading the situation toward a dead end,” Kremlin foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov told the Interfax news agency.
“The president of the Russian Federation is constantly stressing this point.”
– Donetsk deserted –
The million-strong riverside city of Donetsk stood deserted on Wednesday with sporadic reports of gunfire after a devastating two-day battle with more than 100 separatists who had seized the local airport on Monday.
The gleaming Sergei Prokofiev International Airport — rebuilt at a cost of $900 million (660 million euros) for the Euro 2012 football championship — stood with its vast glass facade shattered after the army used fighter bombers and helicopters to capture the building on Tuesday.
Dazed officials said 14 schools and two hospitals had been closed near the airport. Roads leading to it and the city’s main railway station were sealed off as a precaution.
Shops and restaurants — even the local McDonald’s — remained locked up and their windows boarded.
And the gutted outer shell of the futuristic Donbass Arena that houses the Shakhtar Donetsk football club stood hugging a central city park after vandals had set it on fire on Monday night.
The Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said it still had received no news from a four-member team that went missing outside Donetsk on Monday.
The OSCE said it had learned that two Ukrainian journalists accused of “spying” had been taken hostage in the neighbouring eastern district of Lugansk.
The Polish government said that a Catholic priest local media identified as Father Pawel Witek had also been nabbed by rebels in the Donetsk region on Tuesday.
– Gas threat –
Ukrainian premier Yatsenyuk flew to Berlin for urgent energy security talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that come less than a week before Europe faces another possible halt in Russian gas supplies.
Russia and Ukraine launched their third gas war in less than a decade after the ouster of a Kremlin-backed president in February prompted Moscow to nearly double Kiev’s gas price.
Ukraine refused to pay the bill in protest and has since balked at the terms of an interim deal negotiated with the help of a top EU energy official on Monday that would have seen Russia receive a down payment on its debt by Thursday.
Europe imports 15 percent of its gas through Ukraine and has been keen to help find a compromise that could avert a repeat of 2006 and 2009 disruptions that damaged Russia’s reputation as a reliable supplier and prompted Brussels to seek ways to diversify supplies.