Five things that happened in Ukraine as all eyes were on Iraq
Putin has asked parliament to revoke his right of military intervention in Ukraine – what's going on?
With all eyes on Iraq, the media focus on Ukraine has faded in recent weeks. After Russia annexed Crimea in March, commentators were warning of a new cold war, with Russia threatening to invade Ukraine's eastern provinces and the West calling crisis meetings and issuing sanctions.
Then militants mounted a lightning surge across Iraq and global attention shifted to the Middle East.
But today Russian President Vladimir Putin asked the Russian parliament to revoke the right of military intervention in Ukraine following surprise talks between Kiev and rebel leaders. So what's going on? Here are five things that happened while the world was looking the other way...
Plane gunned down in biggest single loss of life
Hopes for peace were raised on the sidelines of D-Day commemorations in Normandy, as Putin held informal ceasefire talks with Petro Poroshenko, the chocolate tycoon sworn in as Ukraine's new president. But a week later footage emerged of an attack by pro-Russian gunmen on a Ukrainian military transport plane. All 49 people on board were killed in the biggest single loss of life in the two-month insurgency.
Gas explosion after Russia turns off supply
After daily threats and brinkmanship, Russian gas company Gazprom announced on 16 June that it was cutting off supplies to Ukraine in a dispute over pricing. A day later a major gas pipeline exploded in central Ukraine on the main line that carries Russian gas through Ukraine out to the rest of Europe. The flames reached up to 200 metres high and sent a huge fire raging in the nearby fields, although gas supplies to Europe were not interrupted. Ukraine said it was treating the incident as a possible terrorist attack.
Temporary truce and peace plan announced
Poroshenko last week announced a unilateral ceasefire by government forces to pave the way to peace talks. He has since outlined a 15-step peace plan aimed at bringing an end to the violence in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. He promised constitutional reform to devolve greater power to the regions by September, early local and parliamentary elections, as well as a new law granting amnesty to rebel fighters – but he warned that he had a "Plan B" if peace efforts failed. Rebel leaders yesterday agreed to honour the temporary truce after surprise talks between pro-Russian fighters and government representatives. Within hours both rebels and government forces accused one another of breaking the ceasefire.
West threatens stronger sanctions
Leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the US and the UK met for the first time without their Russian counterparts earlier this month after suspending Russia from G8. During the meeting in Brussels, they agreed they would warn Russia of fresh sanctions if it failed to defuse tensions on the Ukraine border. Leaders have reiterated those threats this week, with British Foreign Secretary William Hague urging Putin to respond positively to the Ukrainian government's peace plan.
Putin revokes right of military intervention
Today Russian President Vladimir Putin asked parliament to revoke the right of military intervention, initially authorised on 1 March, which had enabled Moscow to annex the Crimean peninsula. Putin's press spokesman suggested the move was aimed at reducing tensions in the conflict-torn eastern regions of Ukraine. But does this mean the crisis is resolved and we can concentrate on Iraq? The Washington Post suggests not. Aside from the symbolism of the request, it is not clear whether the decision changes anything on the ground, says the newspaper. If the West is correct in its assertion that Russia has been furtively provoking the insurrection in eastern Ukraine, simply revoking Putin's official authorisation for military action would appear to do little to change the situation.
Ukraine: rebels in east claim victory in independence polls
PRO-RUSSIAN separatists in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions have declared victory in two referendums proposing a split from Ukraine.
Rebels claimed that 89 per cent of people voted for independence in Donetsk, while 96 per cent voted for independence in Luhansk.
Kiev has described the hastily organised referendums as a "criminal farce" organised by Russia. In a statement, the Ukraine foreign ministry said: "The Ukrainian people does not recognise any terrorist referendums in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and also in Crimea."
BBC correspondents based in the east of the country reported "chaotic scenes" at polling stations, with no voting booths in some areas and no electoral register.
The Independent describes a "shambolic lack of organisation", with reports that many people were not even sure what they were voting for on the ballot paper, which asked: "Do you support the Act of State Self-Rule of the Donetsk People's Republic/Luhansk People's Republic?"
Nevertheless, separatists have said that once the results are confirmed, all Ukrainian military troops in the region would be considered "occupying forces". A second vote, planned for next week, will ask the people of Donetsk and Luhansk if they want to join Russia and organisers are planning to boycott Ukraine's presidential elections on 25 May.
The referendums went ahead despite a call by Russian president Vladimir Putin to delay them.
The European Union and United States have branded the polls illegal amid fears Ukraine could be sliding into civil war. But the West's protest over Russian action in Ukraine has gone largely unheeded and has been criticised as "weak" by many commentators.
Today the EU is set to step up pressure on Russia by extending sanctions to two Crimean companies, as well as 14 people linked to Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.
But in the Daily Telegraph, Daniel Hannan says the "milk-and-water diplomacy" pursued by the EU has been "nothing short of calamitous". Russian intervention was "wholly predictable", he adds. "It's the ineptness on our side that's so shocking."
Ukraine rebels debate Putin’s call for referendum delay
SEPARATISTS in the east of Ukraine will debate a proposal to delay their planned referendum on autonomy after the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, called for the vote to be postponed.
Referendums are currently set to take place on Sunday, but rebel leaders in the eastern cities of Donetsk and Luhansk say that they will put the matter to “people’s councils”.
The dramatic reversal of Kremlin policy towards the referendum took analysts by surprise, the BBC’s Richard Galpin said, and may indicate that Putin “is having second thoughts about pursuing a policy aimed at de-stabilising Ukraine”.
Putin also seemed to change his position on the upcoming Ukrainian presidential elections yesterday, which he now says promised to move the country “in the right direction”.
Whatever Putin’s motives, it puts the rebels “in a tricky position”, says the Daily Telegraph’s Roland Oliphant. “Any rebels still clinging to the already fading hope that T-90s would roll over the horizon in the nick of time have been rudely disabused of that notion. It doesn’t look as if Mr Putin is going to war for them – for now”, Oliphant said.
The Kremlin also claimed that it had withdrawn its troops from the Ukrainian border. But the White House remains sceptical about the withdrawal and NATO said it has no indication that Russia has withdrawn its forces.
The US is equally uncertain about the motives behind Putin’s recent reversal in attitude towards the east Ukrainian rebels, CNN says.
Some US senators have called for tougher sanctions to be imposed on Moscow. But one Ukrainian presidential candidate, Valery Konovalyuk, argued that sanctions are actually making matters worse:
“We need to give Russia the opportunity to re-evaluate its policies, but at the same time give the opportunity for it to save its political face. I believe the sanctions against Russia have no future”, Konovalyuk said.
Ukraine: dozens more killed in clashes as crisis spreads West
DOZENS more people have died in clashes between Ukraine forces and pro-Russian rebels, with the crisis spreading to the south-western city of Odessa.
Fighting in the eastern town of Sloviansk continued yesterday, with more than 30 pro-Russian separatists killed, according to the interior ministry. Four Ukrainian soldiers were also said to have died.
A third Ukrainian helicopter was shot down amid the fierce fighting. The aircraft crashed into a river but the crew members reportedly survived.
Today the eastern airport in Donestsk was closed for departing and arriving flights because of a government order.
Clashes across the east broke out after pro-Russian militants seized government buildings in a dozen or more cities, but the violence has since spread to the south-western port city of Odessa. More than 40 people died in clashes there on Friday, predominantly pro-Russian separatists killed in a building fire.
The Guardian says the “horrific events have only served to worsen an already tense situation”.
Russia warned yesterday that the crisis threatens peace across Europe and blamed the violence on "ultranationalist, extremist and neo-Nazi" forces.
Kiev describes the claims as blatant propaganda, with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accusing Russia of executing a plan "to destroy Ukraine and its statehood". He claims Russia's aim is to “repeat in Odessa what is happening in the east of the country”.
Russia’s warning will “heighten international concerns over a potential Russian response to Kiev's intervention”, says the Daily Telegraph. Up to 40,000 Russian troops are believed to have massed on Ukraine’s eastern border, stockpiling enough fuel, ammunition and medical supplies to mount an invasion within 12 hours of receiving the order, says the newspaper.
Despite the latest violence, Ukraine plans to hold a presidential election on 25 May. Today British Foreign Minister William Hague said the elections must be allowed to go ahead. “Russia seems to be intent on a course of preventing and disrupting those elections,” he said. “That is wrong.”
Is Ukraine heading towards civil war?
Fears are growing that Ukraine is headed towards civil war following two days of violence and chaos in the east of the country.
The area is braced for more chaos and bloodshed as troops from Kiev are poised to continue "anti-terror" operations while pro-Russian gunmen try to reinforce their defences.
Ukrainian troops advanced on several towns yesterday to retake the buildings grabbed by the gunmen. This morning they surrounded the pro-Russian stronghold of Sloviansk. Local residents say they fear they will be stormed.
Pro-Russian groups are furious over the deaths of many separatists in a fire in Odessa in the south on Friday. Dozens were killed after barricading themselves in a building in the city. Ukraine's prime minister blames security forces for failing to stop the latest clashes.
Meanwhile, seven military observers who had been kept prisoner in Ukraine for more than a week have been released.
The observers, together with their five assistants, from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, had been accused by separatists of being "Nato spies". The captors threatened to use them as human shields.
Colonel Axel Schneider, the head of the observers, said the group had shown "strength" and that the captivity was "unforgettable for us". Foreign secretary William Hague has called for the release of all hostages held by illegal armed groups.
Ukraine: two army helicopters shot down as conflict escalates
TWO Ukrainian army helicopters have been shot down after government forces launched an "anti-terrorist" operation in the rebel-held city of Sloviansk this morning, marking a sharp escalation in the conflict. One pilot was killed and several other people were injured, according to the country's interior ministry.
Ukrainian authorities were responding to the armed separatist uprising that has gripped eastern Ukraine in recent weeks, with pro-Russian protesters occupying government buildings in more than a dozen towns and cities.
Today's operation, which began at 4.30am, is described by Reuters as the heaviest military response by Kiev since it tightened a cordon around the city a week ago.
Rebels in the town are believed to be holding around 30 to 50 prisoners, including seven European inspectors with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Ukraine and leaders in the West have called on separatist leaders to release hostages and surrender.
Russia denies direct involvement but has massed troops on the border and yesterday warned that any assaults by Ukraine's troops in the region would have "catastrophic consequences". This has increased fears in the West that Vladimir Putin is planning to invade Russia's former Soviet neighbour.
Gunfire and heavy detonations have been heard on the outskirts of Sloviansk today. However, BBC correspondent Sarah Rainsford says the situation appears calm inside the city.
The attack comes after Ukrainian authorities reinstated compulsory military service in a bid to deal with the deteriorating security situation.
Former president Viktor Yanukovych abolished conscription in 2013, as part of a reform aimed at switching to a professional military, but Ukraine's acting leader Oleksandr Turchynov reintroduced it yesterday via presidential decree.
Earlier in the week Turchynov admitted that security forces have effectively lost control of two eastern regions to the pro-Russian rebellion.
Pro-Russians storm government building in Luhansk
PRO-RUSSIAN activists have taken control of the regional administration's headquarters in Luhansk, one of Ukraine's easternmost cities.
Earlier in the day, Moscow expressed concern over an "unprecedented" increase in the number of Nato and US soldiers near the borders of Russia.
Russia's defence minister Sergei Shoigu described the build-up of troops as "provocative". The US said that it has sent 600 soldiers to Poland and the Baltic states to "reassure" its Nato allies.
In an hour-long phone call with his US counterpart, Chuck Hagel, Shoigu said that Russian troops had returned to their "permanent positions" after completing military their exercises along the Ukrainian border. The White House said it had been given "assurances that Moscow has no plans to invade Ukraine".
Yesterday the Obama administration extended its sanction list "in response to Russia's continued illegal intervention in Ukraine".
The list now includes Igor Sechin, head of state oil giant Rosneft, and Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the committee of international affairs of Russia's lower house.
The EU has also named 15 people for sanctions, including General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian general staff, and the Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Kozak, The Guardian reports.
Russia's natural gas exporter Gazprom said that the tightening of US and EU sanctions could "adversely impact" operations and disrupt gas exports. The warning came as Gazprom posted a seven per cent drop in profit for 2013.
The company has threatened to cut gas supplies to Ukraine over an unpaid bill of more than $2bn (£1.2bn), and warned that they may also reduce their delivery of gas to Europe.
Pentagon: Russian jets ‘enter Ukraine airspace’
International tension over the Russian presence in Ukraine is soaring after the US said Russian military jets have entered Ukrainian airspace several times over the past 24 hours.
US officials say it is not clear what the intent of the airspace violations were, but the aircraft could have been testing radar or engaging in a sabre-rattling show of force.
A Pentagon spokesman called on Russia to "de-escalate the situation", as the G7 nations agreed to "swiftly" impose further sanctions on Russia over Ukraine.
Announcing the sanctions agreement, the G7 hailed the "restraint" with which the new government in Kiev has acted in dealing with the pro-Russian gunmen who have seized official buildings.
Earlier, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel had described Russian activity along the Ukrainian border as "dangerously destabilising" and "very provocative".
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has accused Moscow of wanting to start "a third world war".
However, Russia is biting back against international condemnation, accusing the West of wanting to “seize” Ukraine. Moscow has deployed tens of thousands of troops along its side of the border with Ukraine.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has also warned Kiev it will face vengeance and justice for a "bloody crime" in eastern Ukraine, where the government has been acting against rebels.
Last month, Russia annexed Ukraine's mainly ethnic-Russian Crimean peninsula, after unrest began in Ukraine last November.
John Kerry accuses Russia of 'deception' in Ukraine
JOHN KERRY, the US secretary of state, has issued a blunt warning to Russia over separatist violence in eastern Ukraine, accusing Moscow of "distraction, deception and destabilisation" in the region, says the BBC.
He warned that Russia would face further sanctions if it did not seize the "window to change course" - which he warned was "closing" - and help defuse the situation in its neighbour's eastern towns where pro-Russian separatists, some alleged to be Russian troops in disguise, are occupying government buildings.
In his most direct condemnation of Russia yet, Kerry said US intelligence is sure Russia is "playing an active role in destabilising eastern Ukraine", supplying "personnel, weapons, money and operational planning".
Yesterday, Russia accused the US of being behind Kiev's raids on the separatists - but Kerry said today this was Vladimir Putin's "fantasy". He insisted that Moscow continues to "fund, co-ordinate and fuel a heavily-armed separatist movement in Donetsk".
Kerry added: "Not a single Russian official has... called on the separatists to support the Geneva agreement, to support the stand-down, to give up their weapons and get out of the Ukrainian buildings."
Yesterday, Ukrainian commandos shot dead at least two pro-Russian fighters as they tried to re-take the town of Sloviansk. It is not yet clear how successful the attempt was - but at least some checkpoints in the city were still manned by separatists this morning.
Meanwhile, Moscow has ordered new military exercises on its border with Ukraine. There are now tens of thousands of Russian troops positioned there.
Ukraine: Commandos move to take back town of Sloviansk
UKRAINIAN government commandos are re-taking the country's eastern town of Sloviansk, one of at least 12 controlled by pro-Russian groups, with casualties reported among the separatists.
The commandos, wearing bullet-proof armour and armed with assault rifles and machine guns, have cleared barricades near the town where separatists have occupied key government buildings. There have been as many as five separatists killed, the BBC reports.
The centre of the town is said to be "relatively calm" with people out walking in the streets. One barricade on a road into the city was set on fire as Ukrainian troops approached.
Reacting to the news on Russian TV, Vladimir Putin said there would be "consequences" if Ukraine's leadership used the army against its own citizens and added that sending in troops would be a "serious crime".
Meanwhile, interior minister Arsen Avakov has reported that Ukrainian forces have re-taken the town hall in another eastern town, Mariupol.
There has been no independent verification of Avakov's claim, nor of his allegation that Ukrainian troops fended off an attempt by dozens of pro-Russians to seize weapons from a military unit in Artemivsk, another eastern town.
An earlier attempt by Kiev to re-take Sloviansk on 16 April became bogged down when protesters surrounded troop carriers and government troops were forced to abandon them rather than risk injuring civilians.
Ukraine: Joe Biden arrives in Kiev after shootout kills three
THE US vice-president arrived in Kiev this morning, on a largely symbolic two-day visit to show support for the Ukrainian interim government.
During his two-day visit, Joe Biden will meet Ukraine’s interim president and prime minister to discuss the country’s upcoming elections and the tense stand-off in eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian militants continue to occupy buildings in several cities.
Violence flared over the weekend when a shootout at a checkpoint manned by Russian-speaking gunmen near the eastern town of Slovyansk shattered the “Easter truce” both sides had agreed to maintain. Three people were killed in the fighting amid angry recriminations from Kiev and Moscow. Both sides blamed the other for breaking the Geneva Accord, which had been signed days earlier, The Independent reports.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who took part in the talks in Geneva, accused Kiev of a “crude violation of the agreements” and said "all signs show that Kiev can't, and maybe doesn't want to, control the extremists who continue to call the shots".
But Kiev accuses Moscow of providing support to pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine. Over the weekend, the US State Department released photos that it says show Russian special forces operating alongside masked gunmen in different cities in the east. The Russian government has yet to respond to the accusation.
During his visit, Biden is expected to announce technical support for Ukraine, including economic and energy-related advice. President Barack Obama said that the visit conveyed high-level support for Ukraine’s pro-Western government.
A US official in Biden’s entourage said that the vice-president “wanted to come to Kiev to send a very clear message of US support for Ukraine’s democracy, unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
Elections in Ukraine are scheduled for May 25.
Ukraine crisis: can Geneva talks avert a new confrontation?
WASHINGTON, Moscow, Kiev and the European Union are due to meet in Geneva today to discuss the escalating eastern Ukraine crisis.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia will try to persuade Russia to demobilise the pro-Russian separatists who have been occupying buildings in the eastern regions for the last week.
According to a Ukrainian secret service document, seen by The Times, Russian spies based in Donetsk and Luhansk, two eastern Ukrainian regions, have been directing the attacks.
Today, Ukraine's interior ministry said that around 300 pro-Russian separatists attacked a military unit with petrol bombs in Mariupol, near the Azov Sea, overnight. Ukrainian troops opened fire, killing three separatists, it said.
However, Russia – which is sending its foreign minister Sergey Lavrov into the Geneva talks today – has repeatedly denied any links to the separatists.
The situation in eastern Ukraine is being compared to what happened in the Crimean peninsula before it was annexed by Russia last month.
"All eyes are now on whether diplomacy can save the day," says the Daily Telegraph. However, the newspaper points out that Ukraine has set out a string of demands that will be “difficult to meet”, such as asking Moscow to confirm that Crimea "is an integral part of Ukraine".
Russia has claimed Washington is backing Kiev's "war on its own people" in strident language that makes any concession at the Geneva talks seem unlikely, says the Telegraph.
If the meeting fails to reach a compromise, the EU, represented today by foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, and the US have threatened to bring in tougher sanctions against Russia.
But the Washington Post describes these bargaining chips as "little more than vague threats".
US President Barack Obama's attempt to "smooth the way for a diplomatic solution has virtually ensured that the Geneva meeting will fail", says the newspaper. "Once it does, the president should take action that will give Mr Putin tangible cause to pull back."
Putin warns of 'civil war' as Kiev sends troops to eastern Ukraine
RUSSIAN president Vladimir Putin has warned that Ukraine is "on the verge of civil war" after Ukrainian troops took control of a provincial airport in the east of the country.
In a call to German chancellor Angela Merkel, Putin said that the deployment of soldiers in the region was a "sharp escalation".
Yesterday. shots were fired at Kramatorsk airport in clashes between Ukrainian troops and around 30 pro-Russian activists. At the same time, Ukrainian special forces were deployed to the nearby city of Slavyansk, as Kiev prepared to take back government buildings seized by separatists over the past week.
Video footage from the weekend showed pro-Russian fighters in uniforms taking control of regional police stations, The Times reports. The US State Department described them as "equipped with Russian weapons and the same uniforms as those worn by Russian forces in Crimea".
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has accused Russia of deploying "thinly disguised" armed groups to aid the occupation of buildings, and warns that Moscow faces "serious long-term consequences" if it continues to destabilise Ukraine.
Ukraine's interim president Oleksandr Turchynov says that the purpose of the military operation is to "protect Ukrainian citizens, to stop the terror, to stop the crime, to stop the attempts to tear our country apart".
But according to the Kremlin, Putin told the German chancellor "that the sharp escalation of the conflict has placed the country, in effect, on the verge of civil war".
Putin also called UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon to demand that the UN condemn the actions of the Ukrainian government, which he described as "anti-constitutional". The White House countered that Kiev "has to respond" to the activities of armed groups in the east of the country.
White House Spokesman Jay Carney has called for restraint on all sides. "We urged the Ukrainian government to move forward, gradually, responsibly, and with all due caution, as it deals with this situation caused by armed militants," he said."The way to ensure that violence does not occur is for these armed paramilitary groups, and these armed so-called pro-Russian separatists, to vacate the buildings and to lay down their arms."
Ukraine: Putin denies Russian meddling in tense Obama call
RUSSIAN president Vladimir Putin has rejected claims that Russia is interfering in Ukraine during a tense call with Barack Obama.
The US president urged Putin to help calm the rising tensions in Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels continue to occupy buildings in around ten towns and cities across the country's eastern provinces.
Ukraine's acting president Oleksandr Turchynov yesterday threatened to launch an "anti-terrorist operation" against the gunmen occupying government buildings, but a deadline passed with no large-scale action.
With thousands of Russian troops reportedly deployed along the border between Ukraine and Russia, Kiev fears that a crackdown on separatists could trigger a Russian invasion, reports the BBC.
But in the phone call to Obama last night, Putin dismissed claims that Russia is interfering, describing the reports as "unreliable".
The Kremlin said in a statement that recent unrest in Ukraine's south-east was "the result of the unwillingness and inability of the leadership in Kiev to take into account the interests of Russia and the Russian-speaking population".
It added that Putin had urged Obama to "use the resources at the disposal of the American side" to help prevent any bloodshed.
The White House said that during the phone call, made at Russia's request, Obama expressed "grave concern" about Russian government support for the actions of armed, pro-Russian separatists.
"The president emphasised that all irregular forces in the country need to lay down their arms, and he urged President Putin to use his influence with these armed, pro-Russian groups to convince them to depart the buildings they have seized," it said.
The US president and the EU have also threatened Moscow with wider sanctions.
Tensions have been rising steadily since Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula last month. The separatists occupying buildings in the east are now demanding referendums on either greater autonomy or an option to join the Russian Federation.
The EU, Russia, the US and Ukraine are due to hold a meeting on the crisis in Geneva on Thursday.
Ukraine on the brink of civil war as Kiev takes on 'terrorists'
UKRAINE has sent troops to drive out pro-Russian gunmen from the positions they have taken up in the east of the country as the threat of civil war or a Russian invasion looms.
Russia has urged the interim government in Kiev not to use force against protesters who have occupied government buildings and police stations in towns in eastern Ukraine.
But acting president Oleksandr Turchynov said that he would launch a "full-scale anti-terrorist operation" against the gunmen if they did not vacate their positions by 6am GMT. That deadline has now passed.
The United Nations Security Council held an emergency session on Sunday to discuss the developments, at which Russia's ambassador called on Kiev to "start a genuine dialogue" with the protesters.
Ukraine's UN ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev replied that the situation had been created by Russia.
The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, agreed: "It has all the tell-tale signs of what we saw in Crimea," Power said. "It's professional, it's coordinated."
In its leading article today, The Times says that Russia is "invading Ukrainian territory by stealth". The strategic aim is "to destabilise Ukraine and steal any legitimacy from the government that is elected on May 25."
After Kiev announced its intention to respond with force, Russia said it was ready to defend pro-Russian protesters. "There is nothing remotely spontaneous about these developments", The Times says.
As the deadline for gunmen to relinquish control of official buildings passed, Ukrainian diplomat Valentyn Nalyvaichenko said that Kiev was prepared for confrontation. "If they open fire, we will annihilate them. There should be no doubt about this," he said in a televised interview.
Russia is believed to have massed 40,000 well-equipped troops near Ukraine's eastern border in addition to the 25,000 troops it recently moved into Crimea.
UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco said that Ukraine now "teeters on the brink".
Ukraine crisis: pro-Russian activists seize state buildings
PRO-RUSSIAN activists have seized control of state buildings in eastern Ukrainian cities as tensions between Kiev and Moscow continue to escalate. Protesters stormed regional government buildings in the eastern cities of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv yesterday.
They have since left the Kharkiv buildings, but protesters in Luhansk have today seized weapons in a security building, while groups occupying the provincial government building in Donetsk remain barricaded inside.
Hundreds have been demonstrating in the three cities, with violent clashes between protesters and riot police.
About half of the region's residents are ethnic Russians and thousands of Russian soldiers have been deployed along the border.
At an emergency cabinet meeting today, Ukraine's interim prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of sowing unrest in the eastern provinces as a pretext to sending in its troops across the border.
In the wake of the Russian takeover in Crimea, Ukraine remains suspicious of its neighbour's influence. "Kiev suspects that this is not grassroots activism, but an orchestrated campaign designed to trap Kiev into either succumbing to demands to let eastern regions govern themselves or even break away to join Russia or running the risk of mounting unrest and a possible Russian invasion," says BBC diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall.
Meanwhile, Ukraine's defence ministry has claimed that a Russian soldier killed a Ukrainian military officer in Crimea on Sunday and another Ukrainian officer was reported to have been beaten and detained by Russian troops.
The latest unrest follows the removal of pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych and Russia's annexation of Crimea, as well as a growing stand-off between the two countries over gas prices.
Ukraine is threatening legal action against Russia after it took steps to almost double the price of natural gas supplies to the country, reports the Financial Times.
Kiev, which imports more than half of its gas from Russia, has accused its neighbour of "economic aggression" after Russia's state-controlled company Gazprom increased its prices from $268.50 to $485.50 per 1,000 cubic metres.
US talks stall as 40,000 Russian troops mass on Ukraine's border
TALKS between US secretary of state John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov over the future of Ukraine ended on Sunday night without agreement, in spite of both sides expressing their commitment to finding a diplomatic solution.
Kerry insisted that Moscow must pull back its forces from Ukraine's eastern border and accused Russia of creating a climate of "fear and intimidation" ahead of the talks.
Russia said that Ukraine could no longer function as a "unified state" and should take on a looser "federal structure" where areas in the south and east of the country assume political autonomy. Analysts believe that the adoption of such a system could be a preliminary move towards Russia annexing more of Ukraine's territory.
Kiev has expressed "outrage" at the suggestion of a federal Ukraine, the Financial Times reports.
Kerry said that before any deal could be made, Russia must pull back the estimated 40,000 Russian troops it has massed on the Ukrainian border and insisted that decisions on the future of the country should include Ukraine's interim leadership. "We will not accept a path forward where the legitimate government of Ukraine is not at the table. This principle is clear. No decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine."
Russia says the forces on the border are carrying out "routine exercises", but Nato and the Pentagon said the build-up was "abnormal" and could be a prelude to an invasion, The Guardian.
However, Lavrov dismissed talk of an invasion. "We have absolutely no intention of, or interest in, crossing Ukraine's borders," he insisted.
The talks in Paris followed a late-night phone call on Friday between Russian leader Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama, when the two discussed potential diplomatic solutions to the Ukraine crisis.
According to the Kremlin, Putin had offered "possible steps the global community can take to help stabilise the situation". But Moscow maintains that the interim government in Ukraine is comprised of "fascists" who jeopardise the safety of the country's Russian speaking population, the BBC reports.
After talks concluded on the weekend, Kerry said he would return to Washington to consult with President Obama and discussions with Russia would continue soon.
Russia kicked out of G8 over Crimea, but Putin doesn't care
RUSSIA has been expelled from the G8 group of leading economic nations in a move designed to punish Russian president Vladimir Putin for the annexation of Crimea and prevent any further military incursions into Ukraine.
The group was expanded from seven to eight nations in the late 1990s to incorporate post-Soviet Russia into the international community. Since then the country has been part of the regular summits alongside world's other richest industrialised nations: Britain, the US, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Canada.
But G7 leaders yesterday cancelled their planned trips to Sochi in June, where the G8 meeting was to have been held. They will now convene in Brussels, the Daily Telegraph reports. US President Barack Obama will tell Putin that the G8 "does not exist" until he agrees to collaborate to find a diplomatic solution in Ukraine.
Does Russia care?
Speaking after a session at the global nuclear security summit in The Hague, Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov expressed his indifference to the news. "The G8 is an informal club, there are no membership cards; nobody can expel anyone from it by definition. So if our western partners believe that the format of the G8 has exhausted itself, so be it."
Jonathan Marcus, diplomatic correspondent for the BBC says that Moscow is unlikely to be too concerned about the expulsion. "I don't think the Russians will be that sorry not to be in the G8. But clearly it will reinforce the narrative in Moscow which basically says that the West are not prepared to treat Russia as an equal," he told the World Service Global News programme.
Should sanctions go further?
Obama has expressed concern that Europe has been unable to impose serious sanctions on Russia. Italy and Germany both rely on Russia for energy, and the City of London is awash with Russian money, the Telegraph notes.
Ben Rhodes, the US Deputy National Security Adviser, said that punitive sanctions on Moscow must go further if they are to have any effect. "We would like to see a steady ratcheting up of that pressure. We are watching very closely, we believe that Russia stands an enormous amount to lose."
Crimea: Russia seizes marine base as Kiev prepares for war
RUSSIAN troops have taken over another Ukrainian military base in Crimea, this time at Feodosia. It is the third such attack in 48 hours, as Ukraine prepares for a Russian invasion along the its eastern border.
The Russians used armoured personnel carriers and stun grenades to seize control of Feodosia, rounding up Ukrainian officers and taking them away.
Nearly all Ukrainian bases in Crimea are now under Russian control, despite the US and EU issuing dozens of sanctions against senior political and military leaders.
Russia formally annexed Crimea on Friday, following last month's overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and a Moscow-backed referendum in Crimea on 16 March.
Many commentators are describing the situation as "the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War".
The Russian flag has been hoisted at 189 Ukrainian military units and facilities in Crimea, and Ukraine's warship, Slavutych, has also been seized, reports the BBC.
One person was reportedly injured during an assault on Belbek base, near Sevastopol, over the weekend. Two armoured vehicles burst through the wall of the base, followed by Russian troops firing weapons in the air.
There is still no confirmation of the whereabouts of the Belbek base commander, Colonel Yuli Mamchur, who was reportedly taken by Russian forces to a military prison. Kiev has demanded his immediate release.
US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, Nato's top military commander in Europe, has warned that Russian forces on Ukraine's eastern borders are capable of mounting an operation all the way to Moldova.
Andriy Deshchytsia, Ukraine's foreign minister, has said the risk of war with Russia is growing, as Russian President Vladimir Putin refuses to talk to the Ukrainian government or Western leaders.
"This is quite a danger for the decision-making process," he said. "We could only expect that he might invade."
Deshchytsia told ABC News that Kiev's first approach would be diplomatic but warned that it was "ready to respond" and that the Ukrainian people are "ready to defend their homeland". He added that the situation is "becoming even more explosive than it was a week ago".
Crimea: William Hague slams “bullying” Putin
William Hague has launched a strongly worded attack on “bullying” Russia over the invasion of Crimea. The foreign secretary describes Vladimir Putin’s “outrageous land grab” as the biggest threat to European stability of the 21st century.
He warned Moscow that it faces long-term “isolation and stagnation” over the crisis in the Ukraine, and vowed that the UK and its European allies will not “run scared” in the face of aggression.
His comments come as Russian troops, backed by armoured vehicles, took control of one of the last big military bases in Crimea. The only submarine of the Ukrainian fleet was seized by Moscow forces yesterday. The Ukrainian region was formally annexed by Russia on Friday.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Hague said of the crisis: "Vital principles are at stake, including the territorial integrity of European nations and the right of democratic countries to choose their own future."
He added that Britain and its allies “must be prepared to contemplate a new state of relations with Russia that is very different to the last 20 years”.
Hague argues that Russia has “been damaged by its oligarch system” and warns that the same “corrupting habits” could undermine European democracy “over the long term”.
As the crisis continues, the Polish defence minister has asked the US to send extra forces to help protect eastern Europe.
Russia sanctions: Usmanov and Abramovich 'should be on list'
THE European Union has added 12 more Russians to its sanctions list in a bid to stop the country from destabilising Ukraine, but there have been calls to extend the number of "Kremlin cronies" targeted by the West.
A treaty joining Crimea to Russia has now been approved by Russia's lower house of parliament and is expected to be ratified by the upper house today.
The move has been condemned by Kiev and the West, with US president Barack Obama also announcing further sanctions against Russia. His measures target a further 20 people, some of who are closely associated with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
But in the New York Times, Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny says that the initial sanctions list was "mocked in Russia" and calls for a "serious blow to the luxurious lifestyles enjoyed by the Kremlin's cronies" who shuttle between Russia and the West. "This means freezing the oligarchs' financial assets and seizing their property," he says.
As well as targeting Putin's inner circle, Navalny names several oligarchs well known in the UK, who he thinks should be added to the list. They include Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club, and Alisher Usmanov, a major shareholder in Arsenal Football Club.
The FT says if that were to happen it could prompt them to move their money out of the country and turn London into a "legal battleground".
The EU is due to publish its updated sanctions list later today, but one senior official told The Times that it is "not looking at the oligarchs".
EU leaders are also expected to sign the political section of a trade pact with Ukraine – the same agreement that Ukraine's ousted President Viktor Yanukovych declined to sign in November, sparking the current crisis.
The dispute over Crimea is expected to dominate Obama's visit to Europe next week, says the BBC. He will chair a meeting of the G7 group of seven leading economies – pointedly excluding Russia, which would normally make it the G8.
In response, Russia said it was imposing its own sanctions against US officials and politicians. The list includes Senator John McCain, who yesterday tweeted: "I’m proud to be sanctioned by Putin."
Meanwhile, Moscow has been tightening its grip on Crimea. On Thursday, Russian-allied troops took over at least two Ukrainian navy ships at anchor in the port of Sevastopol.
White House officials also revealed the Pentagon was providing "non-lethal" assistance to the Ukrainian military. They claimed there were signs of human rights abuses against the Tartar minority in Crimea, after the body of a man showing signs of torture was discovered and houses were marked "in a biblical fashion".
What next for Ukraine after 'Russian forces' kill soldier?
AFTER pro-Russian forces shot and killed a Ukrainian soldier during an assault on an army base at Simferopol in Crimea yesterday, Ukraine's interim government says the conflict has entered a "military stage".
Ukraine's regional defence ministry spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov told AFP the soldier had died from a gunshot to the neck during a siege of a military installation located in Crimea's main city. In response, Ukraine authorised its soldiers to fire in self-defence.
Following a referendum on Sunday in which Crimean residents voted overwhelmingly for independence, Russian president Vladimir Putin yesterday signed a treaty to formalise the region's accession to the Russian Federation.
Crimean authorities immediately declared Ukrainian military facilities on the peninsula to be illegal and said Ukrainian troops had until Friday to leave.
Ukraine's interim prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called the shooting at the base a "war crime". The interim president Oleksandr Turchnynov placed responsibility for "the blood of Ukrainian soldiers (on) the leadership of the Russian Federation and specifically President Putin".
Before signing a treaty on Crimea's annexation, Putin delivered a highly charged address to both houses of the Russian parliament in which he aired a long list of political grievances dating back to 2000. The Guardian said the speech was "likely to go down as one of the defining moments of his long rule over Russia".
What will happen next?
Russia has already started the practical work of annexing Crimea, even though the international community maintains that the entire process has been illegal.
But integration is not going to be straightforward – not least because the peninsula does not share a land border with Russia. CNN reports that plans are already in place to build a link bridge between the eastern city of Kerch and the Russian mainland – a huge engineering project that will span three miles of open water.
Crimea's most immediate problems will be water and power. Between 80 and 90 per cent of Crimea's water comes from Ukraine, and approximately two-thirds of the region's gas is supplied by the Ukrainian state-owned supplier Chernomorneftegaz, CNN says. Analysts say that Kiev is unlikely to simply turn off the peninsula's water and electricity supply due to its own dependence on Russia for gas. Nevertheless, a gradual realignment is likely to occur in coming months.
Resolving military tensions is likely to be more challenging. Crimean authorities say that Ukrainian troops can remain in uniform if they pledge allegiance to Crimea. If not, the region's rulers have guaranteed troops safe passage back to the mainland providing they surrender their weapons. But the interim Ukrainian government has shown no sign of capitulation to these demands. Ukraine's interim deputy prime minister Vitaliy Yarema said on Monday that "if the Crimean authorities try to force the Ukrainian military out, the Ukrainian military has the right to use force". After the raid on the base in Simferopol yesterday, tensions remain high.
Will Russia try to take more territory?
In his parliamentary address yesterday, Putin reassured Ukrainians that he had no designs on the eastern part of their country. "Don't believe those who try to frighten you with Russia, and those who scream that other regions will follow after Crimea," Putin said. "We do not want a partition of Ukraine. We do not need this."
But can the Russian premier be taken at his word? Tim Snyder, a professor of central and eastern European history at Yale University told the BBC that the claim was patently false. "It is very important to consider the things that come from Moscow not for their empirical, factual character. The Russians are already present in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Zaporizhia. They've been sending mercenaries with baseball bats and teargas across the border for weeks."
Snyder says these efforts to create instability in the east of the Ukraine could be an attempt to unsettle the Ukrainian interim government or a prelude to further military intervention, but "either way, what Putin says is not true".
What can the international community do?
Roger Boyes, writing in The Times, says that sanctions will not be sufficient. Rather, he says, what is required is a display of hard power. "That means reviving Nato's role as a keeper of the peace in East-West conflict". Kiev should be allowed to join Nato and there "could be joint Ukrainian-Polish-Lithuanian brigades, training courses for the general staff, English lessons for soldiers (English is the common Nato language), airborne radar monitoring Russian troop movements, and new Western monitoring kit on eastern borders".
Added to this, Europe should find a new source of energy to replace its reliance on Russia. "The only economic measure likely to impress Mr Putin is to end Europe's heavy dependence on his gas and oil, choking his revenue flow", Boyes says.
More immediately, the West can have a positive impact by financially supporting the Ukrainian interim government and enacting more significant sanctions, says Timothy Garton Ash in The Guardian. "Western governments must make sure Ukraine's authorities have the money to pay the bills right now... The west can threaten Moscow with sanctions far worse than those currently imposed, not just if Putin takes his marked or unmarked forces anywhere else in eastern Ukraine, but if he keeps on trying to destabilise it by proxy."
Defiant Putin signs treaty to annex Crimea and blasts West
IN A rousing address to both houses of the Russian parliament, President Vladimir Putin accused the West of hypocrisy over Crimea, before signing a treaty to formalise the region's accession to the Russian Federation.
His televised speech was punctuated by loud cheering, applause and unrestrained tears as Putin said: "Crimea has always been an inseparable part of Russia."
He said the transfer of Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 had been a "mistake" and was a "clear violation of constitutional norms", even at the time.
The Russian president used his address to reassure Ukrainians that he had no designs on the eastern part of their country. "Don't believe those who try to frighten you with Russia, and those who scream that other regions will follow after Crimea," Putin said. "We do not want a partition of Ukraine. We do not need this."
To the strains of the Russian national anthem, Putin then signed a treaty formally integrating Crimea into Russia.
The peninsula in the south of Ukraine was occupied by pro-Russian forces in the wake of popular protests that toppled former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. The region officially declared its independence from Ukraine on Monday after holding a referendum over the weekend.
Kiev's interim government says it rejects Crimea's secession. But Putin said that the results of the referendum were "more than convincing", and must be respected by the international community. "The people of Crimea clearly and convincingly expressed their will," he said. "They want to be with Russia".
During the address, the Russian president lambasted the West for its "hypocrisy" over Ukraine. Western nations had endorsed Kosovo's independence from Serbia, he noted, but now denied Crimeans the same right, Reuters reports. He described the interim leaders of Ukraine as "neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites".
Russia's bill to recognise Crimea as a sovereign state must now be approved by the constitutional court and then ratified by parliament, the BBC reports.
Crimea: Cold War threats and sanctions fail to deter Russia
RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin has begun preparations for Crimea to join the Russian Federation, brushing off Western sanctions and threats of a new Cold War.
Putin has approved a draft bill for the annexation of Crimea, following the peninsula's referendum on Sunday, which overwhelmingly supported a break away from Ukraine.
The formal process of absorbing the peninsula could be completed within weeks.
Yesterday, the White House imposed sanctions against 11 senior Russian and Crimea-based officials accused of undermining the "democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine".
The EU imposed sanctions on 21 individuals, including three senior Russian commanders, the prime minister of Crimea and other senior officials.
The sanctions were described as the toughest since the end of the Cold War, although the EU and US stopped short of targeting Putin and key figures in his inner circle.
Foreign Secretary William Hague has warned that the EU was prepared to go further and would look to reduce its energy reliance on Russia. He added: "I would not describe it as a new Cold War, but that will depend on the course of events over the coming days."
Moscow treated the sanctions with derision. The Russian deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, who faces sanctions by the US, laughed off the list of targets and asked if it had been drawn up by "some prankster".
Meanwhile, Russian troops have massed near a border with eastern Ukraine, where there have been fatalities during clashes between pro- and anti-Moscow demonstrators in recent days. The Russian media is also starting to refer to a broad belt of land in southern Ukraine as Novorossiya, or New Russia, the Tsarist-era name for the region.
Back home, Putin has seen his personal approval ratings soar to a three-year high.
Last night, separatist Crimean leaders rushed through a raft of measures in preparation for the region's unification with Russia, reports the Daily Telegraph.
Members voted to rename their assembly the 'State Soviet', passed legislation to introduce the Russian rouble as a second currency and even shifted time zones, voting for Crimea to move to Moscow time.
Crimea: standoff with Russia is 'last thing the world needed'
SANCTIONS against Russia could prove "dangerous and destabilising" for both sides, commentators have warned, after Crimea voted to join Russia in yesterday's referendum.
Exit polls suggest 97 per cent of voters chose to join Russia, and President Vladimir Putin has promised to honour the vote.
The move to split Ukraine is seen as one of the most significant redrawings of the map of Europe since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The EU and US say the referendum was illegal, but Russia says it was consistent with international law. And with Russia set to absorb Crimea in "the very near future", the US and EU are preparing urgent sanctions.
The White House has already warned of "additional costs" to Russia, while EU foreign ministers will meet in Brussels today and are expected to publish a list of Ukrainian and Russian officials who will be punished with asset freezes and visa bans.
However, Europe is mindful that its sanctions will almost certainly trigger a retaliation in kind from Moscow.
Putin has made a "mockery of international law by muscling into Crimea", but tough sanctions might give him pause, says The Times. "It is imperative now that Europe leaves Mr Putin in no doubt about the price of allowing the crisis to escalate this far."
The Times calls for immediate sanctions – not to cripple the Russian economy – but to "make pariahs of Russia's leaders with visa bans and the freezing of personal assets". It says the West should also suspend Russia's membership of the G8 and "unite against the bully in the Kremlin".
Meanwhile, the Financial Times describes the referendum as "divorce at gunpoint". This is not a "peaceful and consensual" referendum akin to the one happening in Scotland, it says. "Instead, it is a figleaf for a forced territorial annexation – the first on the European landmass since the end of the Second World War."
But the Daily Telegraph warns that a standoff with Russia over Ukraine is "the last thing the world needed".
Both sides would be devastated by a full-blown trade war, it says, but capital flows between Russia and the West are already in a state of turmoil in anticipation of lesser action, such as asset freezes and travel restrictions.
Economic considerations must come second to defending international law, but the interplay between politics and economics makes this situation "dangerous and destabilising", says the newspaper. "The West cannot afford another global slump any more than Mr Putin."
Crimea: Russia moves 10,000 troops to Ukraine border
RUSSIA has announced that 8,500 troops with artillery support, armoured vehicles and helicopters have been deployed along the Ukrainian border ahead of this weekend's referendum in Crimea. Another 1,500 paratroopers are set to be dropped near Rostov-on-Don, a city near the Black Sea.
The move heightens tensions ahead of the Crimean regional government's planned referendum on whether to realign their region with Moscow, to be held this Sunday March 16.
Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of unacceptable "military aggression". John Kerry, the US secretary of state, was today holding last-minute talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in London to try to find a political settlement ahead of the weekend vote.
Yatsenyuk said that the interim Ukrainian government was ready to deal with Moscow: "If we start real talks with Russia, I believe we can be real partners," he said.
In 1994, Ukraine gave up the world's third biggest nuclear arsenal in exchange for Russian guarantees of sovereign independence and territorial integrity, The Guardian reports. In light of Russia's present actions "it would be difficult to convince anyone on the globe not to have nuclear weapons", Yatsenyuk warned.
Ahead of the London talks, Kerry warned that there would be "very serious" consequences if Russia annexed Crimea, and the BBC's diplomatic correspondent James Robbins says that if the talks are not a success it could herald the re-emergence of Cold War tensions.
Russia maintains that the removal and impeachment of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich was illegal and the current government lacks legitimacy. "Instead of a government of national unity as provided for in the 21 February agreement in Kiev what you had was a government of the victors," Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said.
Moscow says that its military activities along the Ukrainian border are part of broader training exercises on "unfamiliar terrain".
Russian troops now control key strategic locations in Crimea, including military bases, airports and government buildings. Critics argue that the presence of troops in the region will make the outcome of the referendum questionable.
Clashes between pro- and anti-Russian groups continue in the south and east of the country. One person was killed and three others injured in violence in the eastern city of Donetsk on Thursday.
Ukraine: US threatens 'costs' if Russia does not back down
US PRESIDENT Barack Obama has pledged to "stand with Ukraine" in its conflict with Russia.
Obama hosted a meeting with Ukraine's interim prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, at the White House on Wednesday, reiterating the assurance of US support offered by Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to Kiev last week.
Obama said that the US "will be forced to apply costs" if Russia refuses to back down and remove its troops from Crimea. Yatsenyuk added that his interim government "will never surrender" to Moscow, and said that the presence of Russian troops in the south of the country was illegal, the BBC reports.
"It is absolutely unacceptable to have Russian boots on the Ukrainian ground in the 21st century, violating all international deals and treaties," Yatsenyuk said.
The appeal for a last-minute diplomatic resolution comes just days before the Crimean regional government's planned referendum into whether the region should remain a part of Ukraine or join Russia.
Members of the Russian military and unidentified armed men occupied key strategic points in Crimea after Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted by parliament after several weeks of violent protests. Experts believe that the largely pro-Russian community will vote in favour of separation from Ukraine.
A joint statement issued on behalf of the G7 group of leaders said that the planned Crimean referendum "would have no legal effect" and would not be internationally recognised, The Guardian reports.
"Given the lack of adequate preparation and the intimidating presence of Russian troops, it would also be a deeply flawed process which would have no moral force," the G7 statement said.
Leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States urged Putin not to support the vote, and withdraw Russian forces from the region.
"We call on the Russian Federation to de-escalate the conflict in Crimea and other parts of Ukraine immediately," the G7 statement said.
Obama urges talks between Russia and Ukraine in Putin call
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 Oleksandr 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 Oleksandr 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. ·