Scattered violence underscores tension between Ukraine and Russia
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to Ukraine, where there were new reports of violence on the ground and late word from the Pentagon that Russian aircraft entered Ukrainian airspace on several occasions in the last 24 hours.There were also escalating verbal assaults between Kiev and Moscow. Thick smoke marked the day’s major flash point, Slavyansk, where pro-Russian separatists hold sway. A Ukrainian military helicopter exploded as it sat at an airfield, hit by bullets or rocket fire. Later, gunmen in Slavyansk seized a bus carrying international mediators. The separatist leader there claimed a spy for the Kiev government was on board.
VYACHESLAV PONOMARYOV, Separatist Leader (through interpreter): I have heard that there was somebody there from the military headquarters. People who come here as observers from the European Union bring a real spy with them. It doesn’t look good at all. This is an example of the policy of double standards.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry confirmed it lost contact with observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE.
At the same time, Kiev said government forces were beginning a full blockade of Slavyansk. A day earlier, troops killed several gunmen at a checkpoint there.
The Ukrainian military moves prompted a new blast today from Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow.
SERGEI LAVROV, Foreign Minister (through interpreter): Some 160 tanks and some 250 armored personnel carriers are waging war with their own people. This is a bloody crime, and those who pushed the army to do that will pay, I am sure, and will face justice.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Russian forces were on the move as well in maneuvers. Ukrainian officials claimed they had come within 1,100 yards of the border.
And acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk sounded an alarm.
ARSENIY YATSENYUK, Prime Minister, Ukraine (through interpreter): Military aggression by Russia on Ukraine’s territory will lead to military conflict in Europe. The world has not yet forgotten World War II, but Russia already wants to start World War III.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Last night, Secretary of State John Kerry had accused Moscow of fomenting trouble in Ukraine, in direct violation of last week’s agreement in Geneva.
JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: If Russia continues in this direction, it will not just be grave mistake; it will be an expensive mistake.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But Russia’s Lavrov rejected the criticism today. He insisted the separatists in Eastern Ukraine will lay down their arms, under the Geneva accord, only when nationalist protesters in Kiev disband their camps.
From South Korea today, President Obama said again the U.S. and European nations are ready to ratchet up the economic pressure on Russia.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What’s also important is laying the groundwork so that if and when we see even greater escalation, perhaps even a military incursion by Russia into Ukraine, that we’re prepared for the sort of sectoral sanctions that would have even larger consequences.
JUDY WOODRUFF: There was fresh evidence that Russia was already feeling the effects of the initial round of sanctions. The ratings agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded Russia’s credit rating for the first time in five years to just one notch above junk status. The S&P warned more downgrades could follow if tighter sanctions were imposed and capital flight from the country wasn’t stemmed.