April 9, 2014
Ukraine’s interior minister has warned pro-Russian activists who have taken over state buildings in eastern cities to enter talks to find a political solution or face “force”. Arsen Avakov said the situation would “be resolved in 48 hours” either way. Earlier, some of those who had been inside security service offices in Luhansk since Sunday left the building. The EU, Russia, US and Ukraine are to meet next week in the first four-way meeting since the crisis erupted. The talks are aimed at breaking the impasse since Russia annexed the southern Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in February. Russian troops are now massed along the borders of the two countries. In another development on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested state-controlled energy company Gazprom should make Ukraine pay up front for its gas, but said there should be “additional consultations” first.
Tensions have been high since government buildings in the eastern cities of Luhansk, Donetsk and Kharkiv were taken over by pro-Russian activists on Sunday. Mr Avakov said an “anti-terrorist operation” was under way in the three regions and would be concluded within the next two days. “There are two options,” he told journalists, ” political settlement through talks or the use of force. “For those who want dialogue, we propose talks and a political solution. For the minority who want conflict they will get a forceful answer from the Ukrainian authorities.” The leader of the armed activists inside the state security service building in Luhansk has appealed to President Putin for help.
Calling Luhansk the “last remaining hope for all Ukraine”, the man identified only as Vitaly said: “Mr Putin, have mercy on your fighters. If you lose us then you will lose the last hope to create a good neighbour.” Earlier, Ukraine’s security service said 56 people held inside its Luhansk offices had been allowed to leave following two rounds of negotiations with local politicians. During a rally outside the building overnight, speakers condemned the interim leadership in Kiev and repeated their call for a referendum on greater regional autonomy. Ukraine’s authorities said on Tuesday they had retaken control of the government building in Kharkiv.