Pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine ignore new Geneva pact aimed at easing tensions

Story highlights

  • Little progress in a meeting in Kiev Saturday to ease tensions in eastern Ukraine
  • Separatists in Eastern Ukraine ignore international deal
  • Putin says he won't give in over to Western demands
  • U.S. to take part in military exercises in Poland and Estonia

Two days after an international pact was brokered with the stated goal of easing tensions in Ukraine, the major players met again in Kiev to hash out plans to push it along.

While there was little indication of what, if any, progress was made Saturday in defusing tensions, all sides agreed to allow a 57-nation organization with a history of stepping in to mediate crises to moderate talks.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said in a statement it planned to send its deputy chief monitor to eastern Ukraine to help implement an international pact reached among Russia, Ukraine and its Western allies in Geneva earlier this week.

"In this regard the meeting's participants recognized the need to take immediate concrete steps towards de-escalation," according to the OSCE statement. The OSCE says the Ukrainian government has already taken steps to do this.

OSCE also said the participants in Saturday's meeting in Kiev also agreed "to meet regularly" as they work to resolve the continuing unrest in some eastern Ukrainian cities.

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Donetsk separatists stand their ground

Meanwhile, Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine did not agree to the Geneva Statement, and in defiance of the international deal, have dug in their heels. But they have not seized any new buildings or infrastructure sites since the deal was signed.

However, in Donetsk and other cities, they have refused to leave the buildings they do occupy or to lay down their arms.

A key element of the Geneva pact calls for them to vacate the buildings and disarm in exchange for amnesty.

The separatists' self-declared leader, Denis Pushilin, who leads a group called the Donetsk People's Republic, says the separatists did not sign the deal.

Pushilin said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who signed the deal, was not acting on his behalf.

"He signed on behalf of the Russian Federation."

Pushilin has called for a referendum by May 11 on the separation of eastern Ukraine from the country as a whole.

Such a move could prove popular among Ukrainians who view the country's interim authorities as illegitimate. The current government took power in February after the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Putin says Russia won't back down under threat of U.S. sanctions

The Geneva Statement has not stopped the war of words between Russia and Western powers.

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The U.S. has accused Russia of fomenting instability in Ukraine and has imposed sanctions on some Russian officials.

The West has repeatedly called on Russia to withdraw some 40,000 troops that NATO says it has massed near Ukraine's border. Moscow insists they are there for military exercises.

In an interview posted on Russia's state-owned Rossiya 1 website, President Vladimir Putin said he won't give in to Western demands.

But on Saturday Putin said he saw no reason why relations between East and West shouldn't return to normal, according to state news agency ITAR-Tass.

"This does not depend on us. Or not on us only. This depends on our counterparts," he is quoted as saying.

"I believe there is nothing preventing (the) improvement of relations and ... normal cooperation."

U.S. military exercises in eastern Europe

The diplomatic back-and-forth came amid word from a Western official that U.S. troops will take part in military exercises Eastern Europe.

The official, with direct knowledge of the plan, said the exercises will take place in coming weeks in Poland and Estonia.

Both countries are U.S. allies and share a border with Russia. Officials in Poland and Estonia have both expressed concern over recent Russian military movements and actions in and around Ukraine.

Putin aims to reward Russian troops for Crimea

The Russian government has plans to reward the nation's troops who took part in the annexation of Crimea last month.

Putin announced those intentions during an interview that aired on Russian state TV Saturday.

"I don't think we will know (those who participated in that mission) in the near future, but government awards will certainly follow."

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