UK & World News

  • 15 April 2014, 1:24

Putin Asks Obama To Prevent Ukraine Bloodshed

Russia has asked the United States to use its influence to prevent bloodshed in eastern Ukraine, as Kiev threatened a "large-scale anti-terrorist operation" to remove separatists from government buildings.

Russian President Vladimir Putin made the appeal during a phone conversation with US President Barack Obama, in which the Kremlin said the two leaders discussed the escalating unrest.

The Kremlin said the Russian president also rejected Western claims that Moscow is behind attacks on government buildings, saying they were "based on unfounded information."

Earlier Mr Putin's spokesman said Russia had received several appeals for help from separatists who are seeking to follow in the footsteps of the Crimean Peninsula and force a referendum on joining the Russian Federation.

While Moscow has said it reserves the right to protect ethnic Russians in the region, it has said it has no plans to invade.

Armed men are occupying numerous government buildings across eastern Ukraine despite the passing of a deadline set by Ukraine's acting president Oleksandr Turchynov for protesters to lay down their weapons.

The West accuses Russia of orchestrating the attacks in order to justify expanding its military control beyond Crimea.

Tensions were raised further after reports that a Russian fighter aircraft made repeated close-range passes near a US ship in the Black Sea over the weekend.

The Pentagon condemned the action, saying it was "provocative and unprofessional."

During a meeting in Luxembourg, European Union foreign ministers agreed to impose further sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian individuals.

They will join 33 officials already under EU asset freezes or travel bans.

Foreign ministers also pledged up to 1 billion euros (800m, $1.4bn) in emergency loans to support Ukraine, adding to an earlier $1bn-loan guarantee from the United States.

Ahead of the meeting, Foreign Secretary William Hague said denials of Russian involvement did not have "a shred of credibility".

He said: "There can't be any real doubt that this is something that has been planned and brought about by Russia."

The eastern city of Horlivka became the latest city to be targeted when at least 100 armed men entered a police station and forced riot officers to withdraw from the area.

Sky News Moscow Correspondent Katie Stallard said they were met with "little resistance."

On Sunday at least two people were killed in Slavyansk when clashes broke out between riot police and pro-Russian activists.

Although the Ukrainian interim government has threatened a "large-scale anti-terrorist operation" to reclaim the east, it has not yet materialised.

Ukrainian appeals to the United Nations to send peacekeepers are also unlikely to come to fruition as such a measure would have to be authorised by the UN Security Council, in which Russia holds a veto.

Protesters in Ukraine's east, which has a large ethnic Russian population, hope to follow in the footsteps of the Crimean Peninsula and force a referendum on joining the Russian Federation.

In a move seemingly designed to call their bluff, the Ukrainian president earlier claimed he was "not against" holding a referendum in the region as he was confident the majority of Ukrainians would support an "independent, democratic and unitary Ukraine".

Eastern Ukraine was a strong bastion of support for former president and Kremlin ally Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted following mass anti-government protests in Kiev earlier this year.

Many residents fear they will be suppressed under the new Western-friendly government.

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