By Sergei L. Loiko, Los Angeles Times
MOSCOW — Vowing that the Russian takeover of Crimea would not be repeated elsewhere in the east of his country, Ukraine’s interim president gave separatists until Monday to lay down their arms and surrender government buildings they have seized or face a crackdown by military forces.
Those separatists who don’t fire on security forces and surrender their weapons will not be prosecuted, President Oleksandr Turchynov said Sunday.
“The Council of National Security and Defense has decided to carry out a large-scale anti-terrorist operation with the use of armed forces of Ukraine,” Turchynov said in a televised address Sunday afternoon. “We won’t allow Russia to repeat the Crimean scenario in the eastern region of Ukraine.”
Turchynov also promised concessions to eastern protesters who favor more autonomy. “We are ready to consider the issues of significantly expanding the powers of the regions and a sweeping reform of local self-management,” he said.
Earlier Sunday, an attempt by security forces to retake government buildings in the eastern town of Slavyansk stalled after a brief shootout in which at least one officer was killed and five others were wounded. Separatists also suffered casualties in the exchange, acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said.
Security Service and police officers had to stop the attack and regroup after discovering that “the separatists are hiding behind a live shield of peaceful residents,” Avakov told the UNIAN news agency.
The day before, gunmen in unmarked camouflage uniforms and masks seized a police station and the local administration building in Slavyansk, about 80 miles north of Donetsk in Ukraine’s coal-mining region. They reportedly handed out weapons captured inside the police station to other activists and raised a Russian flag over the buildings.
The interim Ukrainian government fears that a large-scale security operation to retake government buildings might lead to a high number of casualties, Tymchuk said.
“Right now Ukraine leadership is faced with only two options, both being bad and worse: conducting a sweeping combat operation to neutralize terrorists and liberate administrative buildings at the cost of a serious number of casualties, or do nothing and see the eastern regions go adrift toward Russia,” Tymchuk said.
Elsewhere in the east on Sunday, pro-Russia demonstrators and their opponents clashed in the center of Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest industrial center after Kiev, leaving at least 10 people injured, UNIAN reported.
In Yenakiyevo, armed separatists seized a police station and city council building, UNIAN reported. Yenakiyevo is the hometown of former President Viktor Yanukovich, a pro-Moscow leader whose ouster by the political opposition in February led to Russia’s takeover of Crimea.
About 20,000 people took part in a rally in downtown Moscow on Sunday to protest the annexation of Crimea, Russia’s alleged actions elsewhere in eastern Ukraine and the prevalence of anti-Ukraine propaganda in Russian mass media.
“I remember the days of the Cold War only too well, but even in those days the propaganda on television and in our newspapers was not so outrageously lying,” said Olga Zinovieva, a 58-year-old pensioner. “I am really, really afraid the Kremlin is thus preparing the country for a real war with Ukraine.”
AFP Photo/Alexander Khudoteply