Russia to Start Drills, Warning Ukraine Over Mobilization

4/24/14
 
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from The New York Times,
4/24/14:

the Ukrainian special forces took position in the eastern city of Slovyansk

Ukrainian forces moved Thursday against pro-Russian forces manning checkpoints outside this eastern Ukraine city, killing and wounding a still undetermined number of people and prompting Russia to launch what the country’s defense minister said were military exercises along the Ukrainian border.

The moves sharply raised tensions in the developing crisis. In Moscow, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, answering questions at a public forum in St. Petersburg, said any fighting would have an impact on Ukraine’s relations with Russia and would prove that Russia was justified in interfering in Crimea.

“If, in fact, the Kiev regime has started to use the armed forces against people inside the country, then, with no doubt, it is a serious crime against their own nation,” Mr. Putin said at a forum for regional reporters and media figures that was broadcast live on Rossiya 24 television.

The Russian military exercises seemed likely to further fray relations with the United States and its Western allies, who have demanded repeatedly that Russia cease its efforts to stir unrest in eastern Ukraine and desist from military action along the border, where the Kremlin has massed as many as 40,000 troops.

The Russian defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, said that the exercises would include troop movements on the ground as well as flights by the Russian air force. Mr. Shoigu also complained about NATO exercises in Poland and the Baltics, which the alliance announced recently in response to previous Russian threats of military intervention in Ukraine.

“The starting gun on the use of weapons against their own civilians has already been fired,” Mr. Shoigu said, according to the Interfax news service. “If today this military machine is not stopped, it will lead to a large number of the dead and wounded.”

“We have to react to such developments,” Mr. Shoigu, was quoted as saying.

Elsewhere, the Ukrainian interim authorities said Thursday that “civilian activists” had regained control of City Hall in the southeastern city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov, forcing pro-Russian protesters to leave without bloodshed. There was no independent corroboration of the account.

Outside of Slovyansk, up to five “terrorists” were killed in fighting at three checkpoints, the Interior Ministry said. In Ukraine, there is often no independent corroboration of official accounts.

President Obama, on a trip to Asia, warned Russia on Thursday that the United States had more economic sanctions “teed up,” The A. P. reported, although he acknowledged that his ability to influence Mr. Putin was limited.

“I understand that additional sanctions may not change Mr. Putin’s calculus,” Mr. Obama said during a joint news conference in Tokyo with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, The A.P. reported. “How well they change his calculus in part depends on not only us applying sanctions, but also the cooperation of other countries.”

At the forum, Mr. Putin said Western sanctions were having a negative effect on some economic indicators and activity, like credit ratings and the cost of loans, but these were not “critical.” They would also harm the global economy, he said.

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