Three police stations in Ukraine have been taken over by pro-Russian protesters. Roughly 20 armed men engaged in a firefight during a takeover of the stations in Kramatorsk, Sloviansk and Druzhkovka. Once the buildings were under the protester’s control, the Ukraine flag was taken down and a Russian flag put in its place.
A Ukraine police officer indicated that he believed the goal of the takeovers was the weaponry, “the aim of the takeover was the guns. They are giving these guns to participants in the protest in Slaviansk.” Those involved in the takeover, however, claim they were to ensure that Ukraine police no longer had access to weapons that might harm protesters.
One of the protesters, known as Sergei, explained, “Our people want to live quietly and peacefully, without the junta who seized power in Kiev, and so that we are not under America and the West. We don’t want to be their slaves. We want to be with Russia.”
The U.S. state department is concerned that Russia might be instigating the Ukraine uprising. A senior State Department official spoke about a call between Secretary of State, John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov:
During the call Kerry expressed strong concern that attacks today by armed militants in eastern Ukraine were orchestrated and synchronized, similar to previous attacks in eastern Ukraine and Crimea. Militants were equipped with specialized Russian weapons and the same uniforms as those worn by the Russian forces that invaded Crimea. The secretary made clear that if Russia did not take steps to de-escalate in eastern Ukraine and move its troops back from Ukraine’s border, there would be additional consequences.
Russia claims they are not behind the protests. They also insist that the troops on Ukraine’s eastern boarder are not a threat and are merely taking part in routine exercises.
Regardless of the cause of the turmoil, Ukraine’s Interior Minister, Arsen Avakov, is treating the actions as terrorism. “The response here will be very tough because there is a huge difference between protesters and terrorists. Terrorists with weapons will be treated with zero tolerance.”
Tensions have been rising between Ukraine and Russia for over a month. Russia’s energy company, Gazprom, recently raised the price of gas for Ukraine customers, while Ukraine’s energy company, Naftohaz, has suspended all payment until a reasonable price can be agreed upon. Pro-Russia protesters have been pushing against the Ukraine government after Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February.
Russia, the U.S., Ukraine and the European Union are meeting in Geneva on April 17 to discuss the crisis.