US, France warn Moscow on Ukraine provocations

AFP, KIEV

Sun, May 18, 2014 - Page 6

The US and France on Friday warned of new sanctions if Moscow keeps up its “provocative and destabilizing behavior” in Ukraine.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called on those with influence on the armed groups in the east “to do their utmost to rein in these men who seem bent on tearing the country apart.”

In a telephone call, US President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande “underscored that Russia will face significant additional costs if it continues its provocative and destabilizing behavior,” the White House said in a statement.

With an election on Sunday next week, government forces are finding it hard to halt the rebellion and insurgents have seized over a dozen towns and cities.

In a report, the UN rights chief cited “targeted killings, torture and beatings, abductions, intimidation and some cases of sexual harassment.”

The West has been pushing an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe peace plan, while threatening further sanctions if Moscow or its “proxies” disrupt the election.

Two of the main eastern regions, Donetsk and Lugansk, have already proclaimed sovereignty.

Pillay also voiced concern about harassment and intimidation of ethnic Tatars in the Crimea.

US Secretary of State John Kerry denounced rights abuses of Crimea’s Tatars, saying: “Russia’s occupation and illegal attempt to annex Crimea has reopened old wounds... Murder, beatings and the kidnapping of Crimean Tatars and others have become standard fare.”

“The complete lack of objectivity, blatant discrepancies and double standards leave no doubts that [the report’s] authors were performing a political put-up job aimed at clearing the name of the self-declared authorities in Kiev,” the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded.

There is fighting almost every night in the east, particularly around Slavyansk, and dozens of people have been killed since Kiev launched its “anti-terrorist operation” in the middle of last month.

The UN put the death toll from violence in the southeast at a “disturbing” 127.

Ukrainian troops, backed by tanks and heavy weaponry, have set up control posts to try to seal off Slavyansk, but they are struggling to crush the rebellion In Donetsk.

On Friday, a reporter said masked gunmen had seized the National Guard headquarters in the city without meeting any resistance and that the troops had fled.

Pillay said there had been a “worrying” rise in abductions and unlawful detention of journalists, activists, local politicians, representatives of international organizations and members of the military — the bodies of some dumped in rivers.

Kerry on Thursday urged Moscow against disrupting the election — seen as key to preventing the country from descending into all-out war.

Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov has questioned how elections could take place against a backdrop of bloodshed. He complained about the failure of Kiev authorities to include the separatists in the first round of “national unity” talks held under Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe auspices on Wednesday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine if it fails to pay a huge bill by early next month.

Nearly 15 percent of all gas consumed in Europe is delivered from Russia via Ukraine.