Obama urges talks between Russia and Ukraine in Putin call
Phone call comes as EU and US join Ukraine in condemning Crimean MPs decision to join Russia
US PRESIDENT Barack Obama has spent an hour on the phone to Russian president Vladimir Putin, urging him to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine.
According to the White House, Obama stressed that Russia's actions in Crimea – where Russian troops have taken de facto control of the peninsula – were a violation of Ukrainian sovereignty.
Obama called for Russian forces to return to their bases and for direct talks to be held between the governments of Ukraine and Russia, facilitated by the international community.
He also called for international monitors to ensure that the rights of all Ukrainians are protected.
Putin said US-Russian "relations should not be sacrificed due to disagreements over individual, albeit extremely significant, international problems", reported the Kremlin.
The Ukraine crisis has led to a boycott by many foreign dignitaries of the Sochi Winter Paralympics, which open on Friday, and prompted an emergency EU meeting in Brussels yesterday.
In a statement, the EU said it was suspending talks with Moscow on easing travel restrictions on Russians entering the EU.
It also said that if Russia did not move to de-escalate the situation quickly, it would "decide on additional measures, such as travel bans, asset freezes and the cancellation of the EU-Russia summit".
David Cameron said the situation remained "highly precarious" and "the slightest miscalculation could see it spiral out of control". But BBC correspondents say it may still be difficult for the EU to agree on tougher sanctions as "most member states are keen to avoid economic conflict with Russia".
As the Brussels meeting was underway, the Crimean parliament announced that it had decided to join the Russian Federation and would hold a referendum in ten days to see if the people of Crimea would support the decision.
The EU and US have joined Ukraine's government in condemning the move as "illegal". Ukraine's interim President Olexander Turchynov has cited Article 73 of the Ukrainian constitution which says issues relating to borders must involve a "referendum across the whole of Ukraine".
UKRAINE: Crimean parliament votes to join Russia
CRIMEA'S regional parliament has voted to become part of the Russian Federation and said the decision will be put to the Crimean people in a referendum in ten days' time.
On 16 March, voters will be asked whether they want to join the Russian Federation or remain in Ukraine and return to an earlier 1992 constitution, which gave the region more autonomy.
Sergei Shuvainikov, a member of the local Crimean legislature, said this was their response "to the disorder and lawlessness in Kiev", adding: "We will decide our future ourselves."
The parliament in Crimea, which enjoys a degree of autonomy under current Ukrainian law, voted 78-0, with eight abstentions, in favour of holding the referendum.
In a statement on the regional parliament's website, it said it has asked Russian President Vladimir Putin "to start the procedure" of formally allowing Crimea to join the Russian Federation.
A government minister in Kiev said they believed it would be unconstitutional for Crimea to join Russia.
The region has been at the epicentre of the crisis following the ousting of Ukraine's pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, and Russian forces have benn in de facto control of the peninsula for several days.
The announcement from Crimea's parliament came as EU leaders were due to meet in Brussels to discuss how to respond to the occupation.
Ian Traynor, The Guardian's European editor, says the timing of the parliamentary vote and accelerated referendum in Crimea will be seen as "incendiary" by EU leaders.
Reuters says the announcement, which could not have been made without Putin's approval, has "raised the stakes in the most serious east-west confrontation since the end of the Cold War".
According to the 2001 Ukraine census, around 59 per cent of people living in the Crimea are ethnic Russians, 24 per cent are ethnic Ukrainians and 12 per cent are Crimean Tatars.
Ukraine: Yanukovych's assets frozen by EU ahead of summit
THE European Union has frozen the assets of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and 17 others accused of embezzlement.
The former president's sons Oleksandr and Viktor are also listed in an official EU document that states that all 18 Ukrainians are accused of "involvement in crimes in connection with the embezzlement of Ukrainian State funds and their illegal transfer outside Ukraine".
The document was published just hours ahead of an emergency EU summit, due to take place in Brussels this morning, to decide how to respond to Russia's deployment of troops in Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.
Some EU members, particularly from eastern Europe, are pressing for tough sanctions on Russia. According to the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson, David Cameron is hoping – with the help of Sweden, Poland and other eastern European countries – to persuade the rest of the bloc that Russian President Vladimir Putin must "pay a price" for the occupation of Crimea.
But countries such as Germany are seeking mediation. German chancellor Angela Merkel is said to be worried that tough steps may undermine attempts to start a dialogue between Russia and Ukraine and distract from the need to support the new government in Kiev both economically and politically, says Robinson. The Guardian has previously pointed out that Germany also obtains almost 40 per cent of its gas and oil from Russia.
A tense stand-off continued overnight in Crimea, where Ukrainian troops remain blockaded in their bases. The UN special envoy in Crimea, Robert Serry, was reportedly forced to cut his mission short after he was threatened by pro-Russian crowds in Crimea's regional capital, Simferopol.
There were also clashes between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian protesters in the eastern city of Donetsk.
Yesterday high-level talks in Paris between US Secretary of State John Kerry and the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov failed to make significant progress.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton, the former US secretary of state and a potential 2016 presidential contender, has said Putin's insistence that he had to enter Ukraine to protect Russian minorities was reminiscent of the claims made by Adolf Hitler in the 1930s.
Ukraine: Russia and US trade barbs as warning shots fired
VLADIMIR PUTIN and Barack Obama have been trading accusations over the Ukraine crisis, as the first gunshots were fired since the Russian occupation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula began last week.
Putin yesterday delivered his first public remarks on the crisis, describing the acting Ukrainian government as illegitimate and portraying Kiev as being in the grip of "terror, extremists and nationalists" rampaging on the streets.
Speaking from his country residence outside Moscow, the Russian president ruled out a war, but reserved the right to use force "as a last resort" to protect Russian speakers in the east of the country.
He also denied the heavily armed troops in Crimea were Russian, describing them as "local self-defence forces" loyal to Moscow, protecting the bases from "nationalists" and "anti-Semites", reports the BBC.
Obama and John Kerry, the US secretary of state, responded in apparent disbelief. "He really denied there were troops in Crimea?" asked Kerry after arriving in Kiev, where he offered $1bn in loan guarantees to the new Ukraine government. Kerry, who is due hold crucial talks in Paris with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, said there was no indication at all that Russian citizens or Russian-speakers were in any danger in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Obama said: "There is a strong belief that Russian action is violating international law. Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers, but I don't think that is fooling anyone."
Tensions in Crimea remain high, with reports of Russian forces firing warning shots at unarmed Ukrainian soldiers marching on an airfield.
Time magazine described how Russian troops ordered a Ukrainian base commander and his men to stop marching and, when they refused, "began firing bursts into the air, one after another, screaming that they would shoot to kill".
The US has accused Putin of preparing to expand his control over the country. Kerry said there was absolutely no indication that Russian citizens or Russian-speakers were in any danger, adding: "It is clear that Russia has been working hard to create a pretext for being able to invade further."
Ukraine crisis: Putin says force is 'last resort'
VLADIMIR PUTIN has said that the use of force in Ukraine is a last resort, but insisted on the right to "protect civilians" in the Russian-speaking east of the country.
Putin also denied that Russian forces had entered Crimea, claiming instead that soldiers in what appear to be Russian uniforms were in fact pro-Russian self-defence forces.
"Tensions were especially high at Belbek airbase near Sevastopol, the port city which is the base of Russia's Black Sea Fleet," the BBC reports. "Pro-Russian forces fired warning shots in the air, and Ukrainian troops later marched away from the base.
On the diplomatic front, the US is pushing for tougher sanctions on Russia in a bid to punish Vladimir Putin for his occupation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula, but European Union ministers appear to be holding back.
Last night the White House announced it was suspending military ties and co-ordination with Russia, including bilateral activities such as exercises and port visits.
US President Barack Obama has said he is examining a "whole series of steps – economic, diplomatic – that will isolate Russia and will have a negative impact on Russia's economy and status in the world". The president is expected to use his executive authority to bypass Congress to quickly target senior Russian officials implicated in the invasion.
Obama said the condemnation from other countries aimed at Russia "indicates the degree to which Russia's on the wrong side of history on this".
However, EU foreign ministers appear to be resisting trade sanctions, instead pursuing mediation and monitoring of the situation.
America has received support from parts of eastern Europe and Sweden, but at an emergency meeting in Brussels the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Italy and Spain resisted calls for trade sanctions. Instead, they looked at freezing long-running talks with Russia on visa liberalisation that would have made it easier for Russians to visit Europe.
Meanwhile, a photograph has emerged of a secret briefing document, held by an individual walking into Downing Street, which suggested that the UK would also oppose trade sanctions against Russia. It suggested that the UK would not try to restrict Russian trade through the City of London, but that Britain may place visa restrictions on some Russians.
Like other EU countries, and especially Germany, which obtains almost 40 per cent of its gas and oil from Russia, the UK is reluctant to adopt measures that could damage its still fragile economic recovery, says The Guardian.
Washington has also threatened to kick Russia out of the G8 – a move that Berlin has so far opposed.
Ukraine: Russia strengthens grip on Crimean peninsula
THE international community has condemned Russia’s strengthening grip on Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.
Russia has secured the parliament building in the Crimean capital, Simferopol, and two large Ukrainian military bases have been surrounded, with Russian troops demanding that Ukrainian soldiers defect from Kiev to Crimea's new pro-Russia government.
The naval headquarters remains blockaded and key installations, including airports, are still occupied. Crimea has in effect been cut off by roadblocks, at which vehicles are being denied access to the peninsula. “No shots have been fired and no treaties signed but Crimea is now de facto under Russian armed control,” says BBC correspondent Mark Lowen.
Ukraine's interim government has accused Russia of having “declared war”, and has ordered the mobilisation of its armed forces, with men across the country receiving call-up papers to begin military training.
Leaders of the US, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada have condemned the move by Moscow and boycotted preparations for the G8 summit scheduled to take place in Sochi in June until “meaningful discussions” can take place.
US secretary of state John Kerry, who will arrive in Kiev on Tuesday, condemned what he called an “incredible act of aggression” by Moscow. “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in a 19th-century fashion by invading another country on a completely trumped-up pretext,” he told CBS.
Kerry warned that the move could rebound on Russia economically and hinted that it could be ejected from the G8.
Other G7 finance ministers said they were ready "to provide strong financial backing to Ukraine".
Moscow does not recognise the government that took power in Kiev last month after ousting the elected pro-Russian President, Viktor Yanukovych.
Yanukovych's decision in November to abandon closer ties with the EU in favour of Russia sparked massive protests in Kiev, which ended with the deaths of dozens of protesters, shot dead in clashes with police.
Ukraine warns Putin: this could mean war
Ukraine’s leaders sent a firm message to Vladimir Putin last night – a military intervention would mean war.
After Putin gained Russian parliamentary approval to send troops into the former Soviet state, Ukraine’s acting leaders appeared in a stern television address to the nation.
Prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said: “I am convinced that Russia will not launch an intervention as this would mean war.”
Alongside him, interim president Oleksander Turchynov said he has put his troops on combat alert and strengthened security at airports, nuclear plants and other “strategic facilities”.
In a 90-minute telephone call yesterday, US president Barack Obama told Putin he has flouted international law by sending troops into Ukraine. Obama urged his Russian counterpart to pull his forces back to bases in Crimea.
"President Obama expressed his deep concern over Russia's clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity," the White House said. However, the Kremlin says that Putin responded by insisting that Moscow reserves the right to protect its interests and those of Russian speakers in Ukraine.
The UN Security Council held an emergency session on the crisis last night, and Nato has called emergency talks to be held later today. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for "an immediate restoration of calm and direct dialogue”.
Meanwhile, there are signs that violence against the new pro-western government in Kiev is spreading from the Crimean peninsula to eastern Ukraine, an area dominated by ethnic Russians.
Yanukovych breaks cover to dismiss 'fascist hooligans'
VIKTOR YANUKOVYCH, the former president of Ukraine, has appeared in public for the first time since he fled office last weekend, making a speech in Rostov-on-Don, southern Russia.
Speaking in Russian, he said he had decided to leave Ukraine because of threats to his life. The country is now under the control of "fascist hooligans" he said.
Yanukovych appeared composed and relaxed, but spoke forcefully about the situation in Ukraine, insisting he was still the rightful president.
"The Ukranian parliament is illegitimate," he said. "I intend to continue the fight for the future of Ukraine, against those who try to occupy it through fear and terror."
The events in Ukraine were due to "the irresponsible policy of the West that was helping protesters in Maidan Square", he added.
The president said that he had not run away, but had gone to meet regional representatives and during the journey his car was fired upon. He said he was eventually forced to leave the country after threats to his family. He insisted that he had never ordered police to fire on demonstrators in Maidan Square and described the deaths there as "regrettable".
Asked about the situation in Crimea, Yanukovych said it was "perfectly natural for Crimeans to want to defend themselves" but said he hoped the situation would remain calm and promised that he would not ask Russia for military support.
"Any military actions in this situation should not be allowed and I am not going to ask for military support. I think Ukraine should be a single united country."
Yanukovych promised he would return to Ukraine as soon as it was safe. "I will be back in Ukraine as soon as there are guarantees for my security and the security of my family," he said.
Ukraine accuses Russia of 'armed invasion' in Crimea
RUSSIAN military forces are blockading airports in Crimea, the Ukrainian interior minister has said.
Around 50 armed men in uniform took over Simferopol airport in the early hours of Friday morning according to reports from Interfax Ukraine news agency. Arsen Avakov, the Ukrainian interior minister, has accused Russia of "an armed invasion".
Arkov wrote on his Facebook page that Russian forces had taken control of two airports in the Crimea region - an act he said was "in violation of all international treaties and norms".
Armed men have also taken control of the military airport near the port of Sevastopol, The Guardian reports. Avakov said that the men were clearly affiliated with Russian naval forces, but noted that there had been no bloodshed or clashes during the take over.
An Associated Press photographer saw men armed with assault rifles wearing military fatigues bearing no clear markings patrolling the airport in Simferopol, the Daily Telegraph reports.
Russia's Black Sea fleet denied that it was involved in a blockade, says the Guardian. "No units of the Black Sea fleet were deployed in the area of Belbek [airport in Sevastopol] nor did they take place in blockading it," a spokesperson said in a statement.
But Russia admitted that "anti-terror units" had had been deployed to protect areas where its personnel and ships were located "given the unstable situation".
Ukraine's interim president Oleksandr Turchynov called an emergency meeting with security chiefs to discuss the situation, accusing Russian forces of an escalation of tensions in Crimea.
Russia scrambled fighter jets on Thursday to patrol its south-western border with Ukraine in what the Telegraph describes as "the first stirrings of a potentially dangerous confrontation reminiscent of Cold War brinksmanship".
On Thursday, armed men occupied regional governmental buildings in Simferopol, and raised the Russian flag over the parliament.
Russia announced yesterday that had granted fugitive Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych's request for protection. The interim government voted overwhelmingly to send Yanukovych and two senior members of his former government to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, though experts have said that the court would be unlikely to take on the case, the Guardian reports.
Fugitive Ukrainian president 'seeks Russian protection'
VIKTOR YANUKOVICH, the former Ukrainian president who was deposed last weekend, has sought Russian protection, the BBC says.
The leader may already be in Moscow, according to unconfirmed reports from what The Guardian calls "a respected Russian news outlet".
RBC claims that Viktor Yanukovych, pictured above in December 2013, was seen on Tuesday night at the Radisson Royal hotel, a 5-star luxury hotel on the Moscow river.
Sources later told RBC that Yanukovych had moved to the Barvikha Clinical Sanitorium, The Telegraph says. Neither claim has been independently confirmed.
Russian TV has also said that Yanukovych is in Russia, but, according to them, his precise whereabouts are as yet unknown.
The Ukrainian embassy was unavailable for comment, but a Russian foreign ministry spokesperson told RBC that his department "is engaged in foreign policy, not the location of individuals".
The news comes as masked gunmen occupied government buildings and raised Russian flags in the Crimean capital of Simferopol in the south of Ukraine.
Witnesses said that 60 armed people were in the parliament, but that no one had been injured in the takeover, Reuters reports.
"We were building barricades in the night to protect parliament," said witness Leonid Khazanov. "Then this young Russian guy came up with a pistol... we all lay down, some more ran up, there was some shooting and around 50 went in through the window.
"I asked them [the armed men] what they wanted and they said: 'To make our own decisions, not to have Kiev telling us what to do'," added Khazanov.
The occupation comes as a direct challenge to Ukraine's interim leader, Oleksandr Turchynov, who expressed fears earlier in the week that separatist sentiment in Crimea could boil over and cause a split in the country.
The seizure of government buildings was confirmed by acting interior minister Arsen Avakov. "Provocateurs are on the march. It is the time for cool heads," he wrote on Facebook.
Crimea is the only area of Ukraine with an ethnic Russian majority. The dramatic ousting of former president Yanukovych last week caused a backlash in Crimea from pro-Russian protesters who took to the streets chanting "Russia, Russia, Russia".
On Wednesday new battle lines were drawn in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol as ethnic Tatars, who support Ukraine's new government, clashed with pro-Russian separatists, the Daily Telegraph reports. One man is reported to have died in the clashes of a suspected heart attack.
The Kremlin ordered military exercises in western Russia on Wednesday – a move some analysts interpreted as "apparent sabre-rattling aimed at the new government in Kiev," says The Guardian.
Russia's foreign ministry said that Moscow would "defend" the Russian population in Crimea. "Russia's Foreign Ministry will continue to defend in the international arena the rights of its compatriots, it will strongly and uncompromisingly react when they are violated," the ministry said on Twitter.
Ukraine leader fears Crimea split amid pro-Russia protests
UKRAINE'S interim president Oleksandr Turchynov has moved to quash talk of carving up the country amid fears that Moscow may be stoking pro-Russian demonstrations in the south of the country.
The interim leader met law enforcement authorities to discuss measures to prevent the "serious threat" of separatism.
"We discussed the question of not allowing any signs of separatism and threats to Ukraine's territorial integrity and punishing people guilty of this," Oleksandr Turchynov said after the meetings.
Russian-speaking demonstrators in the south of the country have rallied against the change of government, the BBC reports.
In the port city of Sevastopol, demonstrators replaced the Ukrainian flag on the Crimean supreme council building with the Russian flag chanting "Russia, Russia, Russia," and "A Russian mayor for a Russian city".
The Kremlin has vowed to act if tensions in the Crimean peninsula, which is an autonomous republic within Ukraine, boil over, The Guardian reports.
"If the life and health of our compatriots is under threat, we will not stand to one side," Leonid Slutsky, a member of the State Duma of Russia, said after arriving in Simferopol, the regional capital.
In Kiev on Tuesday, the interim government voted to indict former president Yanukovych to the Hague to be tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for violence that caused the death of 82 protesters. The former statesman has gone to ground and has not been seen since the weekend, though many believe that he is in Crimea.
Other senior Yanukovych aides have also fled Kiev. In their absence, the interim government voted to indict Vitali Zakharchenko, the former interior minister, and Viktor Pshonka, the prosecutor general, to the ICC.
US officials have tried to defuse tensions in Ukraine, saying that the country should not become a battleground between east and west, The Telegraph reports.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who plans to visit Kiev in the coming weeks added: "This is a country that needs financial assistance from many sources, including from Russia. It's not about pulling them away from Russia. It's about enabling them to make their own choices."
Russia warns Ukraine as hunt for Yanukovych continues
RUSSIA has intensified its criticism of the protests that toppled Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, insisting that the new government must not join Nato.
Dmitri Medvedev, the Russian prime minister, yesterday described the fall of Yanukovych as "a real threat to Russia's interests" and insisted the new government of Ukraine was illegitimate and "essentially the result of a mutiny", The Guardian reports.
Later, Russian MP Vyacheslav Nikonov told BBC News Hour that the "red line" for Russia would be any attempt on behalf of Ukraine to join Nato.
"Russia will do whatever it takes to prevent that from happening," he said. "Whoever wants to become president in the Ukraine will have to stress good ties with Russia, because the pro-Russian electorate of the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine is more numerous than the anti-Russian electorate of the west."
Ukraine's interim president Oleksandr Turchynov had said that he hoped to form a unity government today, but later postponed the move until Thursday.
Michael McFaul, the US ambassador to Russia, told News Hour that Ukraine should not have to choose between East and West.
"This is not the 18th century, where we struggle for spheres of influence over territory," he said. "This is the 21st century where states can maximise their economic interests with multiple states and multiple different arrangements.
"We don't see this as a some kind of a zero sum game as a battle between the East and West. And I think the sooner we retire that framework... the better off everyone will be. Let the Ukrainians decide their fate."
The new government issued a warrant for Yanukovych's arrest yesterday, but the former president remains on the run. The Times carried a CCTV photo believed to be Yanukovych dressed in casual clothes leaving the presidential compound on Friday night.
Yanukovych was reportedly last seen in Crimea, according to Arsen Avakov, the acting interior minister, who is leading the search.
"Like a terrorist on the run, he has switched off his mobile phones. Most of his bodyguards have deserted him and some of his closest aides have shot their way through border security to avoid capture," The Times reports.
There was mounting speculation that the elusive statesman may already have left the country, possibly on a private yacht that departed from Balaclava, or with the Russian Navy from Sevastopol.
Ukraine: arrest warrant issued as Russia condemns 'mutineers'
UKRAINE has issued a warrant for the arrest of its former president, Victor Yanukovych, who fled office on Saturday, leaving Kiev in the hands of protesters.
Arsen Avakov, the country's interim interior minister and a key opposition figure, said Yanukovych was wanted for the "mass murder of peaceful citizens" the BBC reports.
The Ukrainian parliament has acted swiftly to allay fears that the country was slipping towards civil war. In emergency sessions over the weekend the interim government:
- voted to impeach Yanukovych.
- installed the speaker of the house, Oleksandr Turchynov, as interim president.
- announced new elections to be held in May, meeting the central demand of the Maidan Square protesters.
- resolved to release former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison.
- expressed its intention to focus on closer integration with the EU.
The US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the US "strongly supports" the Ukrainian parliament's decision to impeach the former president, the BBC reports.
Russia, which had earlier recalled its Ukrainian ambassador due to what it described as the "deteriorating situation" in the country, today condemned the transfer of power in forceful terms.
"Russian news agencies quoted [prime minister] Medvedev as saying the new authorities in Ukraine have come to power as a result of 'armed mutiny'," the Daily Telegraph reported. "He lashed out at what he called the EU's recognition of the new authorities as an 'aberration of consciousness'."
The whereabouts of the former president are still unknown, but CCTV footage recovered from the presidential estate, showed trucks being loaded with documents before Yanukovych escaped in a helicopter. On Saturday night border guards blocked the former president's plane from taking off in his home town of Donetsk. It is believed that Yanukovych may now be in Crimea, a largely pro-Russian area in the south of country, the Daily Telegraph reports.
Amid growing fears that Russia could send troops to the country, Britain offered financial relief to help the interim government. UK Chancellor George Osborne said that Britain and other countries would be ready "with a chequebook" to help "rebuild" Ukraine. Meanwhile, Angele Merkel, the German chancellor, called Russian president Vladimir Putin over the weekend, and he agreed to work with the German leader to ensure the former Soviet country maintained its "territorial integrity," The Independent reports.
"They underscored their joint interest in a stable Ukraine – both in economic and political terms," said a spokesperson for Merkel, who added that the two leaders had agreed to keep in close contact over the coming week.
Unrest in the country continued to pose "many dangers", according to Foreign Secretary William Hague. He said that Russia's attitude to the developments was still "uncertain," but announced that he would hold talks with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday, the BBC reports.
Ukraine: peace deal declared after nation's 'bloodiest day'
A NEW peace deal has reportedly been reached between the Ukrainian government and opposition, following a week of escalating violence in which at least 77 people died.
It comes barely a day after the two sides appeared to have called a truce, which rapidly fell apart as violence broke out again in Kiev's Independence Square, also known as the Maidan, yesterday morning.
Following all-night talks, mediated by the French, Polish and German foreign ministers, President Viktor Yanukovych announced that a deal would be signed later today. However, the opposition is yet to confirm the claim.
Thursday became the bloodiest day in Ukraine's modern history, says The Independent, with many anti-government protesters reportedly killed by police snipers.
Since the violence first flared up on Tuesday at least 77 people have been killed, including police officers, and a further 577 have been injured. Monasteries and hotels were turned into makeshift hospitals, with doctors suggesting the death toll could be as high as 100 and would rise further.
The interior ministry claimed that protesters yesterday captured 67 police officers. Amateur footage appears to show police hostages – wearing blue uniforms – being kept in a line by men in plain clothes. A number of them were later released, reports the BBC.
Another video appears to show snipers firing on demonstrators who had been trying to retake their protest camp in Independence Square. Witnesses reported live rounds, petrol bombs and water cannon being used, and some armed demonstrators were reported to be firing towards security forces.
EU foreign ministers yesterday warned that sanctions would be placed on some officials over the violence. The US warned Kiev that it would follow suit.
In last night's talks, Yanukovych apparently expressed willingness to hold early elections this year, a move that might help placate the opposition. His aide was later quoted as saying that "forces of peace" among presidential advisers had defeated the "hawks".
Ukraine: many dead in Kiev as truce falls apart
LIVE rounds have been fired at protesters at Independence Square in Kiev, hours after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych agreed a truce with opposition leaders.
Estimates of the death toll vary wildly. The BBC says at least 22 people have been killed, but a medic who had been treating protesters said that as many as 70 were dead.
This afternoon the Ukrainian government said that 70 police officers had been taken hostage by demonstrators, but that has not been confirmed.
Sky News reported this morning that police were "reacting very aggressively" and "basically just shooting people". A sniper with a rifle on a tripod had been seen "picking off protesters", Sky reports, but there are conflicting reports about what side he was on. Protesters are also throwing petrol bombs, while police are using water cannon.
BBC correspondent Steve Rosenberg reported that the lobby of his Kiev hotel had become a “makeshift hospital and morgue”.
The lobby of our #Kiev hotel is now a makeshift hospital & morgue: casualties brought here from this morning's explosion of violence
— Steve Rosenberg (@BBCSteveR) February 20, 2014
The fresh violence comes after Yanukovych announced a truce with the opposition late last night, following violent clashes that killed at least 26 people earlier this week – the bloodiest few days since the unrest began in late November.
Yanukovych last night met members of a crisis group, including the country's three main opposition leaders, and a statement on the presidential website declared that it had agreed to "start negotiations aimed at stopping the bloodshed, stabilising the situation in the country and achieving social peace".
The opposition had confirmed the truce and said there would be no new police attempts to storm the Maidan. However, this no longer appears to be the case.
Meanwhile, Yanukovych has sacked the head of the armed forces, Col Gen Volodymyr Zamana, and replaced him with the navy commander, Adm Yuriy Ilyin, giving no reason for the dismissal.
The scale of violence and the international outrage has ratcheted up the pressure on Yanukovych, with foreign ministers from France, Germany and Poland due to decide whether to impose sanctions against Ukraine. They are expected to meet Yanukovich today.
US President Barack Obama had earlier warned that another outbreak of violence could have "consequences" and expressed hope that the truce "may hold". The US announced yesterday that it had imposed visa travel bans on around 20 senior members of the Ukrainian government, banning them from the US.
Russia, meanwhile, has characterised the violence as an "attempted coup" by extremists.
Ukraine protests: 'war' in Kiev pushes death toll to 25
UKRAINIAN police launched a fresh attack on protesters in Kiev this morning after overnight talks between the opposition and government broke down.
The last 24 hours have seen some of the worst violence in the three-month political crisis that has engulfed the Eastern European country. The scene in Independence Square, known locally as the Maidan, was described as "apocalyptic" as explosions echoed around the area, fires burned and fireworks were thrown. Tents and even people were in flames, as the death toll climbed to at least 25.
Protesters hurled rocks, broken paving stones and Molotov cocktails as armoured riot squads targeted them with stun grenades, water cannon and rubber bullets.
The violence erupted on Tuesday when around 20,000 protesters clashed with police outside parliament as they rallied in support of plans to strip President Viktor Yanukovych of a raft of powers.
Security forces gave the protesters a deadline of 6pm local time yesterday to leave the square, and when the deadline expired, riot police advanced with an armoured vehicle.
After the failed overnight talks, police launched a new assault shortly after 4am local time this morning.
Protesters held their defence lines, burning tyres on the barricades. However, one BBC correspondent said police had this morning taken control of a corner of the square for the first time since December.
Authorities claim that nine of the dead were police, allegedly killed by gunshots. A journalist has also died, and there are fears that the number of dead may rise as hundreds of people are treated for injuries.
President Yanukovych blamed the opposition for the violence and urged them to distance themselves from radical elements of the protest.
Activists meanwhile have accused the authorities, with former boxing champion and opposition leader Vitali Klitschko urging protesters to protect their "small island of freedom".
He added: "The state has launched a war against its own people. Responsible democratic countries cannot stand back and let this happen."
Ukraine: 7 die in deadly Kiev flare-up
SEVEN people are reported to have died and many more have been injured in new violence in Kiev.
Protesters attempting to march on the Ukrainian parliament were stopped by police firing rubber bullets and stun grenades, according to the BBC.
"The clashes came as MPs were due to debate changes to the constitution," the BBC reported. "The proposals would restore the 2004 constitution and curb the powers of President Viktor Yanukovych, but the opposition say they were blocked from submitting their draft."
The Times reports that "several hundred protesters briefly seized President Yanukovych's party headquarters after attacking it with Molotov cocktails." They later withdrew as the buidling caught fire.
If the seven deaths are confirmed it will take the total death toll of protesters to 13.
How did the original protests begin?
The protests, nicknamed 'EuroMaidan', began in November after Yanukovych refused to sign an Association Agreement with the EU at the Eastern Partnership summit in Lithuania in November, thus derailing three years of talks with the EU.
Protesters argued that by refusing to loosen ties with Russia, Yanukovych was denying Ukraine the economic and social benefits of a relationship with the EU.
The protests began in Independence Square but quickly spread across the country. At one point, up to a million protesters were demanding the removal of President Yanukovych from office.
“The Ukrainians have never had their own country. And it’s already been, how long? How long can you wait for independence?” one protester told the Daily Telegraph.
Who are the protesters?
Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the EU deal appears to have unified opposition groups in protest. Politicians from across the political spectrum, as well as hundreds of thousands of ordinary Ukrainians, had previously attended the protests.
Also in attendance were members of the ultra-nationalist party Svoboda and Arseniy Yatnenyuk, leader of Ukraine’s second largest party, Fatherland – and a bitter rival of President Yanukovych.
The best-known political figure in attendance is former boxing champion and leader of the Udur party Vitali Klitschko, who aims to run for president in 2015. His party advocates cutting ties with Russia and turning towards Europe instead. However, in this weekend's protests, Klitschko has been out on the streets urging protesters to refrain from attacking police.
How has the world responded to the protests?
Vladimir Putin has said that the protests have “nothing to do with Ukraine-EU relations”, reports Russia Today. Putin has placed the blame on “outside actors” for the protests, which he said were an “attempt to unsettle Ukraine's legitimate rulers”.
Over the weekend, Washington and other Western capitals denounced the new laws banning rallies as undemocratic but also urged both sides to "de-escalate the situation".
Channel 4’s Matt Frei describes the situation as “a proxy cold war, played out on Ukraine’s streets”, while the Economist suggests that “with hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians defying their thuggish post-Soviet government, the battle for Ukraine as an independent country has started in earnest”.
However, Alexei Pushkov, the head of the Russian foreign affairs committee warned Ukrainians against a partnership with Europe. “There is an attempted raid on Ukraine, not from Moscow but Brussels, grabbing it by the neck and dragging it to paradise", he said. "The word 'paradise' should be in inverted commas, of course. For Bulgaria, Greece and even for Serbia, which is just an EU candidate country, the promised 'paradise' turned to hopeless gloom."
Ukrainian protesters attack police to defy new protest ban
PROTESTERS have clashed with riot police in Kiev after tough anti-protest legislation was rushed through parliament last week.
The political opposition called on the public to ignore the new laws, which they claim pave the way for a police state, but appealed for calm. Nevertheless, protesters threw smoke bombs, fireworks and other objects at police, while a group of young masked demonstrators attacked a cordon of police with sticks. Some tried to overturn a bus blocking their way to the parliament building.
Around 30 police were said to have been hurt, with more than ten admitted to hospital, four of them in "serious" condition. As tensions continued into Sunday night, police used water cannon against demonstrators gathered near the heavily protected government headquarters.
It is the latest in a series of protests in the country since Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych made a policy U-turn in November away from the European Union towards Russia, Ukraine's former Soviet overlord. ·