Fragile deal agreed to halt violence in Ukraine but Putin reserves right to use troops
Russia, the United States and the EU have announced a tentative deal to pull Ukraine back from the brink of a violent break-up – just hours after President Vladimir Putin had insisted that Russia had a right to send troops into the country.
Relations between Russia and the West are at their frostiest since the Cold War, with US and European politicians openly accusing Moscow of orchestrating the armed separatist uprisings breaking out across eastern Ukraine.
All sides issued a joint statement calling on the groups to disarm, but the US was clear that the onus was on Russia to act quickly or face the debilitating economic sanctions that Washington has been threatening for weeks.
"We fully expect the Russians to demonstrate their seriousness by insisting that the pro-Russian separatists they have been supporting lay down their arms, leave the buildings and pursue their political objectives through the constitutional processes," the US Secretary of State John Kerry said in Geneva after a day of talks with his EU, Ukrainian and Russian counterparts.
Earlier yesterday, three pro-Russian separatists were killed in the worst incident of bloodshed since the 10-day revolt began.
Mr Kerry also expressed concern about reports that Jewish people in one Ukrainian city had received notes asking them to identify themselves to pro-Russians.
Local press reported leaflets being handed out around a synagogue in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, demanding that the city's Jews provide a list of property they own and pay a registration fee "or else have their citizenship revoked".
Mr Kerry's Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, commended the deal but denied any accusations that the Kremlin was behind the recent unrest.
"We have no wish to insert our military forces into Ukraine," he said.
The ministers also agreed an amnesty for most of the separatist protesters and an increased role for a monitoring mission from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
The announcement came hours after Mr Putin's annual question-and-answer session with the Russian public, in which he said he had the right to send troops into Ukraine and poured scorn on threats from the West to impose sanctions on Moscow.
There were also some conciliatory notes, with the Russian president calling the Geneva negotiations "very important".
But his televised comments were laced with derision for European and American foreign policy. Mr Putin said claims that he was behind the unrest in Ukraine were "nonsense", and reminded the world that the Russian parliament had authorised him on March 1 to send troops into Ukraine if ethnic Russians were attacked.
"The Federation Council granted the President the right to use military force in Ukraine," he said. "I really hope I do not have to exercise this right and that we are able to solve all today's pressing issues via political and diplomatic means.
"We must do everything to help these people (in eastern Ukraine]0defend their rights and independently determine their own destiny."
Asked about Transdniestria, a breakaway region of Moldova which Russia protects but which it has not tried to draw into its territory, Mr Putin said that "people should be allowed to determine their own destiny" – words that may concern some of Russia's neighbours. (© Independent News Service)