Pro-Russian protesters stand guard outside a regional
government building in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine.
A mediator from Europe's OSCE security body headed to
eastern Ukraine seeking the surrender of pro-Russian
separatists as the Kiev government declared an Easter truce
following a peace accord with Moscow.
Gunmen occupying public buildings in Donetsk and other
Russian-speaking border towns refuse to recognise an accord
in Geneva on Thursday by which Russia, Ukraine and Kiev's US
and EU allies agreed that the OSCE should oversee the
disarmament of militants and the evacuation of occupied
facilities and streets.
The coming days may determine whether unrest following the
overthrow of Ukraine's pro-Moscow president can be contained.
Russia, which annexed Crimea last month in the worst
East-West crisis since the Cold War, denies running the
separatists or planning to invade. Western powers threatened
more economic sanctions if Moscow does not prevail on the
militants to surrender.
Ertogrul Apakan, who heads the special mission in Kiev of the
Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said his
deputy would be in Donetsk on Saturday and meet separatist
leaders by Sunday to see if they will comply with the
After a meeting in the Ukrainian capital with diplomats from
the four parties to the Geneva accord, Swiss envoy Christian
Schoenenberger, whose country is chair of the OSCE, said its
monitors had spoken to several activists: "For the time being
the political will is not there to move out," he said.
"That's the task of the monitors, to create this political
will, inform the people, so eventually they will understand
that the best option for them is to move out," he told
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia, who warned on
Friday of "more concrete actions" to end the stand-off if
there were no movement over the Easter weekend, said after
the meeting that the senior OSCE officials and the local
authorities in the east would "work out practical steps for
the implementation of the Geneva agreement in the course of
the next day or two".
In Donetsk, separatist leaders renewed calls for a referendum
that could see Ukraine's industrial heartland annexed by
Russia. A poll by an institute in Kiev, however, suggested a
majority does not favour rule from Moscow, despite widespread
suspicion among Russian-speakers of the new leadership in
Ukraine's government, short of effective forces, has shown
little sign of trying to recapture the dozen or so town
halls, police stations and other sites seized over the past
two weeks, despite proclaiming the launch of an
The Foreign Ministry promised "the suspension of the active
phase of the anti-terrorist operation" among a list of
initiatives to defuse the crisis issued late on Friday. The
SBU state security service said the suspension was "linked to
the implementation of the Geneva agreement and the Easter
The government has explained its lack of visible action
beyond setting up security checkpoints by a desire not to
hurt civilians. That would risk provoking the intervention
Russia has threatened if Russian blood is shed. But lack of
resources and training also helps explain the hesitation.
Ukrainian troops lost half a dozen armoured vehicles to
militants last week.
"An Easter truce may show goodwill - or perhaps just Kiev's
total impotence," said one of the masked men guarding the
occupied headquarters of Donetsk's regional government.
"If it's impotence, then we've won. If they're getting ready
to provoke us, then we will hit back with force."
Several people have been killed in violence in the past week.
On Saturday, a serviceman was killed in Donetsk in what the
Defence Ministry described as an accident.
After weeks of bitter mutual recriminations, Vladimir Putin
held out the prospect of better relations with the West on
Saturday but the Russian president made clear it would depend
on concessions from his adversaries in the crisis over
"I think there is nothing that would hinder a normalisation
and normal cooperation," he said in an interview to be
broadcast by Russian state television in which he commented
favourably on the appointment of a new head of NATO. "This
does not depend on us. Or rather not only on us. This depends
on our partners."
He did not spell out what he hoped the West would do.
President Barack Obama's officials made clear on Friday that
Russia must prevail on sympathisers in Ukraine to end the
sit-ins within days or face graver economic sanctions than
limited measures imposed after the seizure of Crimea.
Moscow says its interest is only to protect its borders and
Russian-speakers in Ukraine from "fascists" and others who
overthrew President Viktor Yanukovich after he sparked months
of protests by rejecting closer ties with the EU.
The United States and European Union have imposed limited
sanctions on Russian officials over Crimea but are struggling
to find a common approach to curbing what they see as a drive
by Moscow to recover control of its former empire.
Russia has long complained NATO's extension of membership to
Moscow's Cold War satellites in eastern Europe and deepening
ties to ex-Soviet states like Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine is
part of an aggressive policy to undermine it.
Years of Western disdain for Russia's struggles with the
legacy of the communist collapse also lie behind Putin's
demands - hugely popular at home - that Moscow be treated
with respect. His spokesman hit back on Friday at threats of
sanctions from Washington, saying it treated Russia like a
US national security adviser Susan Rice said: "We believe
that Russia has considerable influence over the actions of
those who have been engaged in destabilising activities.
"If we don't see action commensurate with the commitments
that Russia has made ... in Geneva ... then ... we and our
European partners remain ready to impose additional costs on
Russia. Those costs and sanctions could include targeting
very significant sectors of the Russian economy."
Washington did not spell out what further sanctions it might
place on Russia. With the EU, it has so far imposed visa bans
and asset freezes on a small number of Russians, a response
that Moscow has mocked. But some EU states are reluctant to
do more, fearing that could provoke Russia further or end up
hurting their own economies, which are heavily reliant on
Massive unknowns hang over the situation. Putin's ultimate
goal may not be the Crimean-style annexation of Ukraine's
industrial heartland, despite his comments in a major public
appearance on Thursday in which he recalled that what is now
eastern and southern Ukraine was the tsars' New Russia.
Many analysts believe Putin is mainly seeking to influence
events in Ukraine and ensure a favourable outcome in next
month's election following the loss of Russian ally
That in turn raises questions of the role of Ukraine's rich
business "oligarchs" in the crisis and the election.
Conspiracy theories abound in Kiev, according to which the
rich and powerful may be fomenting unrest behind the scenes
to further their own ends or to curry favour with Putin, who
holds sway over the Russian business interests of Ukrainian
The Ukrainian government has been at pains to show it is
ready to meet the demands of people in the east for greater
local autonomy and rights to use the Russian language.
With a presidential election to replace Yanukovich planned
for May 25, it also needs to convince Ukrainians that 23
years of grandiose corruption and economic mismanagement
under various leaders might come to end and give the state a
A poll by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology for
the Zerkalo Nedeli newspaper found less than a third of
people in the easternmost regions of Donetsk and Luhansk
would vote for rule from Moscow and less than a quarter said
they supported the takeover of public buildings in their
regions by armed men.
Nonetheless, fear of "fascist" Ukrainian nationalists in
Kiev, and worries for employment in the mines and factories,
are widespread: "I lost my job in February when all of this
chaos started in Kiev," said mother-of-two Nina Nebesna, 30,
as she headed in to Donetsk's stadium to watch the local
"Now I can't find work anywhere," she said. "I don't
recognise the junta that took power in Kiev. Those boys are
standing up for our rights," she said of the local militants.
Local miner, Mikhail Belogurov, 55, said a move in the Kiev
parliament after Yanukovich fell to curb Russian-language
rights was "really stupid" and he wanted "the authorities in
Kiev to pay more attention to us". But he was sceptical of
the aims of the pro-Russian separatists: "We don't know who
the people in the buildings are," he said. " We don't know
what they want."