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April 23, 2014

Amid Russian warning, Ukraine's in a security bind

DONETSK, Ukraine — Ukraine's highly publicized goal to recapture police stations and government buildings seized by pro-Russia forces in the east produced little action on the ground Wednesday but ignited foreboding words from Moscow.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that Russia would mount a firm response if its citizens or interests come under attack in Ukraine. Although he did not specifically say Russia would launch a military attack, his comments bolstered wide concern that Russia could use any violence in eastern Ukraine as a pretext for sending in troops.

Separately, the Russian foreign ministry issued a statement demanding that Ukraine pull its armed forces out of the crisis-ridden region. Russia, meanwhile, has tens of thousands of troops stationed in areas near the Ukrainian border.

Ukraine's interim government has accused Russia of orchestrating the unrest in eastern Ukraine.

The Interior Ministry said police forced a group of armed insurgents out of the eastern village of Svyatogorsk on Wednesday, but did not give details of the action other than to say there were no injuries.

Still, it's unclear how much capacity Ukraine's interim government in Kiev has against the insurgents.

A previous operation to reclaimed seized buildings showed few results before it was suspended last week following international talks in Geneva that produced an agreement to de-escalate the crisis. Ukrainian forces claimed to have regained control of one small airport, but insurgents also seized armored vehicles and reports said some Ukrainian soldiers had switched sides.

"Security forces are in a state of disorganization and demoralization," said Kiev-based political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko. "Today, most of them don't want to fight for anyone because they don't know who is going to win tomorrow and how all of this will end."

The army is underfunded and poorly equipped after years of corruption and mismanagement under Viktor Yanukovych, the Russia-friendly president who fled the country in February after months of protests.

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