Russia says Ukraine close to civil war as Kiev begins offensive
(Reuters) – Russia declared Ukraine on the brink of civil war on Tuesday as Kiev said an “anti-terrorist operation” against pro-Moscow separatists was under way, with troops and armored personnel carriers seen near a flashpoint eastern town.
Twenty-four hours after an Ukrainian ultimatum expired for the rebels to lay down their arms, witnesses however saw no signs yet that Kiev forces were about to storm state buildings in the Russian-speaking east that armed militants have occupied.
Interim President Oleksander Turchinov insisted the operation had started in the eastern Donetsk region, although it would happen in stages and “in a considered way”.
Amidst the deepest East-West crisis since the Cold War, the leaders of Russia and the United States have called on each other to do all in their power to avoid further bloodshed.
The standoff has raised fears that Moscow might turn off gas supplies to Kiev, disrupting flows to the European Union. Russian exporter Gazprom promised it would remain a reliable supplier to the EU, but German energy company RWE began deliveries toUkraine on Tuesday – reversing the usual east-west flow in one central European pipeline.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev gave a gloomy assessment after at least two people died on Sunday when Kiev unsuccessfully tried to regain control in the town of Slaviansk, about 150 km (90 miles) from the Russian border.
“Blood has once again been spilt in Ukraine. The country is on the brink of civil war,” he said on his Facebook page.
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