Tentative diplomatic deal for Eastern Ukraine follows night of deadly violence
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GWEN IFILL: Glimmers of hope surfaced in Geneva today, as the U.S., Russia, Ukraine, and the European Union agreed to call for an immediate halt to violence in the country. The announcement followed one of the bloodiest nights since the new government took control in Kiev. Three people were killed and more than a dozen were injured at a military base in Mariupol.
Lindsey Hilsum from Independent Television News was there today and filed this report.
LINDSEY HILSUM: Bullet casings and a bloodied bandage, evidence of last night’s clash between Ukrainian soldiers guarding this base and masked intruders.
ALEKSANDR KOLINICHENKO, Deputy Commander, Ukrainian Army (through interpreter): We can only guess who they were, but their aims were definitely not peaceful. Their main goal was to enter the military base and seize our weapons.
LINDSEY HILSUM: Today, the police in Mariupol were trying to establish exactly what happened.
I have been talking to a soldier who was here. He said that at first the protesters were peaceful and included women and children, but then armed masked men appeared without uniforms. He said, first of all, they tried to storm this guardhouse. They had Molotov cocktails. They came through and they went charging up there, but at that point, the soldiers repelled them.
Footage from the incident shows Molotov cocktails flying as the men tried to force their way into the base. It’s not clear who was shooting. A vehicle caught fire or was maybe set ablaze. They chanted “Berkut, Berkut,” the name of the now disbanded paramilitary security police hated in Western Ukraine, but much loved here in the East.
A protester used a megaphone to call on the troops from the national guard to reject the government in Kiev, but they refused. Three protesters were killed in the fracas that followed and several wounded, including Sergei Shevchenko, injured by shrapnel. We found him in hospital in Mariupol today. He said he and his group had no firearms. They wanted to seize those in the base, so the soldiers couldn’t fight people like him who want an independent republic in Eastern Ukraine.
SERGEI SHEVCHENKO, Anti-Government Protester (through interpreter): We took Molotov cocktails to the military base because they turned the lights off and we couldn’t see anything. If we were going to take their weapons, we needed to light our way.
LINDSEY HILSUM: But Molotov cocktails are not lights. Molotov cocktails are for exploding.
SERGEI SHEVCHENKO (through interpreter): If you want, you can kill a person with a toothpick or a fork. Is that a good explanation?
LINDSEY HILSUM: Police were guarding his hospital room. He said he expected to be arrested when he recovered.
Anti-government protesters remain in control of the municipal headquarters in Mariupol. In Donetsk tonight, those who support the government in Kiev are rallying round their flag, showing that not everyone in the East wants independence or closer links with Moscow. The Geneva statement says all sides must refrain from violence and intimidation, in the hope that the deaths in Mariupol will be the last.
GWEN IFILL: Hours away, in Switzerland, diplomacy returned to center stage.
Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner has the details.
JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: Diplomacy requires willing partners.
MARGARET WARNER: The talks in Geneva began with low expectations, as Secretary of State John Kerry met with his counterparts from Ukraine, Russia and the European Union.
But after seven hours of negotiations, they announced the terms of a deal.
JOHN KERRY: We agreed today that all illegal armed groups must be disarmed, that all illegally seized buildings must be returned to their legitimate owners, and all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated.
MARGARET WARNER: For its part, Ukraine’s government must make good on plans to grant the Eastern regions more autonomy, as Russia has demanded. European monitors are to oversee compliance.
Kerry acknowledged, it won’t be easy.
JOHN KERRY: All of this, we are convinced, represents a good day’s work, but, on the other hand, this day’s work has produced principles, and it has produced commitments, and it has produced words on paper. And we’re the first to understand and to agree that words on paper will only mean what the actions that are taken as result of those words produce.
MARGARET WARNER: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov used much the same language to describe the deal.
SERGEI LAVROV, Foreign Minister, Russia (through interpreter): We approved a document to go with the Geneva statement of April 17, in which we agreed on the initial concrete steps that will de-escalate tensions. All illegally armed groups must be disarmed. All illegally seized buildings must be returned to the legitimate owners.
MARGARET WARNER: But underscoring the difficulty, some pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk suggested they weren’t ready to accept the terms. That’s one of 10 Eastern Ukraine cities where militants have seized key government sites.
The U.S. and Ukraine have accused Russia of fomenting the unrest, and Kerry warned the onus is on Moscow to make the deal work or face additional sanctions.
Later, in Washington, President Obama said military options are not on the table, but he sounded his own note of caution about the agreement.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My hope is that we actually do see follow-through over the next several days, but I don’t think, given past performance, that we can count on that. And we have to be prepared to potentially respond to what continue to be efforts of interference by the Russians in Eastern and Southern Ukraine.
Hours earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin held forth at length on Ukraine in an annual call in show. He sharply criticized the Kiev government.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through interpreter): People in Eastern Ukraine have started to arm themselves. And instead of realizing that something bad is going on in the Ukrainian state and make any attempts to start a dialogue, the authorities have started to threaten with force even more and unleashed tanks and aviation on civilian population. This is another grave crime of the current Kiev authorities.
MARGARET WARNER: Putin again denied that Russian forces or even instructors are playing any role in the events in Eastern Ukraine, but for the first time, he admitted they were involved in Crimea before it was annexed.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN (through interpreter): I didn’t conceal that it was our task to provide conditions for the free expression of the will of Crimea’s residents. That’s why, of course, our servicemen stood behind Crimea’s self-defense forces. They acted in a very correct way, but resolutely and professionally.
MARGARET WARNER: The Russian leader also warned Moscow may not recognize upcoming elections in Ukraine next month. And he didn’t rule out intervening in Ukraine again.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN (through interpreter): I can remind you that the Upper House of Parliament granted the president the right to use military force in Ukraine. I very much hope that I will not have to use that right and that we will be able solve all current pressing issues in Ukraine by political and diplomatic means.
MARGARET WARNER: Putin even took a question from American Edward Snowden, the national security leaker now living in asylum in Russia. He called in to ask if Russia conducts sweeping surveillance of private communications of the sort he’s charged the U.S. does. Putin said no.
Back in Kiev, the acting Ukrainian prime minister dismissed Putin’s performance and accused him of telling fairy tales.
ARSENIY YATSENYUK, Acting Prime Minister, Ukraine (through interpreter): There is only one person in the world who believes that there are no Russian troops in the East of Ukraine. His name is Vladimir Putin.
MARGARET WARNER: Earlier this week, the Kiev government announced an anti-terrorist operation against the pro-Russian separatists in the East. That offensive has bogged down and there were no further military moves today.