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Ukraine rebels announce govt as forces clash in east

LiveMint logoLiveMint 17-05-2014 Kateryna Choursina

Kiev: Ukrainian insurgents stormed a station on the border with Russia to free a rebel leader detained by frontier guards after separatists in Donetsk named a government for their self-declared breakaway state.

About 200 rebels attacked the Dovzhanskyi border post in the eastern Luhansk region, freeing leader Luhansk separatist leader Valeriy Bolotov, who’d been detained crossing into Ukraine from Russia with two other men, Ukraine’s border service said on its website. It said the attack came after calls for support to Ukrainian law enforcement following Bolotov’s arrest went unanswered.

The attack follows an escalation in fighting in Ukraine’s eastern regions since separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk held unofficial referendums on secession last weekend and subsequently declared independence. The violence is threatening to disrupt Ukraine’s 25 May presidential election, which the US, European Union and NATO say is being undermined by Russian intervention.

We want Russia to respect its international obligations and stop trying to destabilize the situation, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, told reporters in Bucharest on Friday.

Sanctions warning

The government in Kiev and its allies in the US and EU rejected the referendums, saying they were illegal, and accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of stirring unrest after annexing Crimea in March. NATO says Putin still has 40,000 troops arrayed on Ukraine’s border and hasn’t fulfilled promises to pull them back.

The US and the UK have imposed sanctions on Russian companies and people in Putin’s inner circle and vowed to tighten them if he doesn’t back down. In a phone call on Friday, US President Barack Obama and his French counterpart Francois Hollande underscored that Russia will face significant additional costs if it continues its provocative and destabilizing behavior, the US White House said in a statement.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said this week that Russia won’t send troops into eastern Ukraine and isn’t trying to foment separatist sentiment there.

The fighting has not halted a rally in Russian markets. The benchmark Micex Index of stocks added 0.8% on Friday, posting its third straight weekly gain, though it’s still down more than 6% since Putin’s Ukrainian ally Viktor Yanukovych was toppled by a popular uprising in February. Ukraine’s hryvnia fell 1.1% against the dollar on Friday, extending its loss this year to 31%.

Separatist government

Separatists named Alexander Boroday as prime minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic on Friday, Dmitry Gau, a spokesman for the separatist group, said by phone. Earlier this week, the separatists in Luhansk and Donetsk agreed to join forces to confront the central government. They adopted a constitution establishing the break-away state’s borders as those of the two Ukrainian regions and declaring that they can accede to a different nation if they choose.

Having seized buildings and radio and television towers in about 15 cities in Ukraine’s east in area that extends from Russia’s border to about 200 kilometers (120 miles) into Ukraine, the rebels have pledged to burn and wipe out Ukrainian forces unless they withdraw from the region.

Worsening situation

A study by the Pew Research Center last month found that 70% of respondents in eastern Ukraine wanted the country to remain unified and keep its current borders. In the west of Ukraine, it was 93%, the 5-23 April poll of 1,659 people showed. It gave no margin of error.

The situation in the region is worsening, with the sound of gunfire constant in city of Slovyansk and the surrounding district, television service knocked out and public transport not functioning, the governor’s office said in a statement two days ago. Ukrainian social policy minister Lyudmyla Denisova said in parliament on Friday the government would no longer be able to provide welfare payments to residents there.

Ukraine’s army is fighting to restore control in eastern provinces. The interior ministry said Friday that Aleksey Relke, commander of a separatist military group in Luhansk, had been detained.

Ukraine says the military operation will stop once separatist groups surrender their weapons and release hostages. The pro-Russian rebels have been excluded from national unity talks that began this week.

Russia has objected to the plan to hold Ukrainian elections amid the current unrest, though it has softened its opposition in recent weeks. Lavrov signaled that Russia views Petro Poroshenko, the billionaire frontrunner in the vote, as someone it can do business with. BLOOMBERG

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