Ukraine says ‘armed Russians’ cross its border

Andriy Deshchytsia

Andriy Deshchytsia

Ukraine’s foreign ministry has strongly protested attempts to cross the country’s border by armed insurgents from Russia, in what is seen as attempts to disrupt the presidential elections on 25 May, and destabilize the situation in the eastern region of the country.

In a statement published today, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine says that such attempts to cross borders “take place with the full connivance of the Russian authorities and unlawful inactivity by Russian border guards”.

“In particular, on 21 May in Krasnodonsky region of Lugansk Oblast Ukrainian border guards prevented an attempt of several groups of armed militants, who were escorting weapons and ammunition from the territory of the Russian Federation, to illegally break through the state border of Ukraine. The same day, a Russian MI-8 helicopter violated the airspace of Ukraine in Sumy Oblast”, the Ukrainian ministry stated.

Foreign minister Andriy Deshchytsiya tweeted, “Ukraine MFA indignant at yet another attempt to cross border. Russia border guards conniving.”

In the meantime, Russia said that Ukraine’s interim government had stepped up armed operations in the eastern part of the country, and accused it of failing to implement measures aimed at ending the crisis.

“Kiev has not stopped but is increasing the punitive operation against its own people and is bombing cities in eastern Ukraine,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.

According to Western media, at least 11 people have died in an attack on a military checkpoint in the Donetsk region of eastern.

The Associated Press said that its reporters saw 11 bodies at the Ukrainian military checkpoint in the village of Blahodatne.

Witnesses told the AP that the checkpoint was attacked by pro-Russian insurgents, who wounded 30 more Ukrainian troops. Three charred Ukrainian armored personnel carriers and several other burned military vehicles stood at the site of the combat.

The Ukrainian media have appealed to the UN to convene a Security Council session as soon as possible to address the situation in Ukraine.

“We are addressing our partners at the UN Security Council to immediately convene a UN Security Council session. We will present evidence proving that attempts to escalate the conflict  and disrupt the presidential elections have been made on the part of Russia,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk told journalists in the Kyiv region on 22 May.

Third level of sanctions?

EURACTIV asked Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson of EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, if the latest events made it more likely that EU leaders would decide to implement a third level of sanctions against Russia, which would target Russian business.

EU leaders are meeting for a special summit on 27 May to discuss the aftermath of the European elections and the presidential election in Ukraine.

Kocijancic said the EU was very concerned by “the spiral of violence” and it had repeatedly called for the end of the violence. She said the EU was concerned by the efforts of Russian-backed separatists to destabilise Eastern Ukraine.

She confirmed that Ukraine would be on the summit agenda, but said she could not predict what the leaders’ decisions could be in terms of response.

Diplomats told EURACTIV that work was well advanced with respect to the preparation of a third level of sanctions, including an the assessment of how such measures would backfire on the economies of EU member states.

But diplomats from some countries have made the point that they would not accept sanctions that would hit them more than they would hit Russia itself.

“We are trying to identify with the Commission measures that would be bearable for us,” said a diplomat for a country which feels vulnerable. He explained that although the Commission was willing to help, countries understood that the EU executive could not compensate individual member countries for all their losses.

The Czech minister of foreign affairs recently told EURACTIV that the third level of sanctions would be applied if Russian troops enter Ukraine [read more]. But other diplomats have said that if Russia would increase its cover action to scupper the Ukraine elections, this would also be a reason for going to stage three of the sanctions. 

The crisis in Ukraine erupted after its former President Viktor Yanukovich cancelled plans to sign trade and political pacts with the EU in November 2013 and instead sought closer ties with Russia, triggering protests that turned bloody and drove him from power.

Moscow annexed Crimea in March following a referendum staged after Russian forces established control over the Black Sea peninsula in the biggest East-West crisis since the Cold War.

Pro-Russian militants control buildings in more than 10 towns in eastern Ukraine after launching their uprising on 6 April. On 11 May pro-Moscow rebels declared a resounding victory in a referendum in Donetsk, which the West called illegal and illegitimate. 

  • 25 May: Ukraine to hold presidential election;
  • 27 May: EU leaders to hold extraordinary summit and discuss aftermath of elections.

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