The Battle for the Ukraine
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|Justin Sink||April 17th 2014|
Diplomats from the United States, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union have agreed to a framework plan designed to end violence in Ukraine.
Secretary of State John Kerry said the framework hashed out by foreign ministers meeting in Geneva would disarm separatist militants in eastern Ukraine and have them vacate the government buildings, streets and squares they have occupied.
In return, the Ukrainian government has offered amnesty to all pro-Russian militants who lay down their arms, with the exception of those who committed capital crimes.
The Ukrainian government has also "committed to going as far as they can to reach out to opponents" as part of a "comprehensive, inclusive process" ahead of next month's elections. That will include consideration of constitutional amendments that could give Ukraine's Eastern regions greater autonomy.
The deal appears to represent a major diplomatic victory just as Ukraine was approaching the brink of all-out civil war. It also has the potential to ease tensions between the U.S. and Russia, as the U.S. was threatening further sanctions against Russia in response to separatist actions in Ukraine.
But while Kerry agreed the agreement is a "good day's work," he said leaders understood that, so far, it's only "words on paper."
"What is important is that these words are translated immediately into actions," Kerry said. He also vowed that if the U.S. did not see a response from the pro-Russian militants within Ukraine by the weekend, "we will have no choice to impose further costs on Russia."
"We worked hard and we worked in good faith in order to narrow our real differences ... and find a way forward for the people of Ukraine," Kerry added. "The parties agreed today that all sides must refrain from the use of violence, intimidation, or provocative actions."
Overnight, pro-Russian separatists attacked a Ukrainian military base in the Eastern city of Mariupol with guns and small bombs. Ukraine's interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said three separatists were killed and 13 others were wounded, according to Reuters.
Separatist groups also reportedly distributed flyers to Jews living in Eastern Ukraine telling them they would have to register their possessions. Kerry said the reports were "not just intolerable" but also "grotesque."
"There is no plea for that, and unanimously every party joined today in its condemnation of that behavior," Kerry said. Kiev also announced new restrictions on Russian citizens who wanted to cross the border into the country.
Russian airline Aeroflot told The Associated Press that Ukraine had informed the carrier that Russian men ages 16 to 60 were banned from entering the country unless they were traveling with family or to a funeral within the country.
"This applies to Russian citizens because there is information about possible provocations at the border, up to and including terrorist attacks," said Oleh Slobodian, a spokesman for the government in Kiev, according to Reuters. "Attention will be primarily paid to men of an active age, traveling alone or in a group."
Earlier Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that the Ukrainian government's crackdown against protesters represented a "grave crime." "I hope that they are able to realize what a pit, what an abyss the current authorities are in and dragging the country into," said Putin during an appearance on a call-in show.
The Russian leader also pointedly noted that he had been granted "the right to use military force in Ukraine." "I really hope that 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," Putin said.
Earlier Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that the U.S. planned to offer additional non-lethal aid for the Ukrainian military, including helmets, sleeping mats and water purification systems.
"Earlier this morning I called Ukraine's acting defense minister to tell him that President Obama has approved additional non-lethal military assistance for health and welfare items and other supplies," Hagel said at a news conference.
Justin Sink writes for The Hill, from where this article is adapted.