Tensions Flare as Pro-Russian Separatists Shoot Down Ukrainian Helicopter


Pro-Russian separatists shot down two Ukrainian military helicopters near Slovyansk as the military tried to loosen the grip of rebels in the eastern part of the country. The two Mi24 helicopters were carrying medics according to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry website. Militants also took the badly injured pilot of one of the helicopters hostage after he made an emergency landing as well.

The Russian government has been extremely vocal about their concerns and disapproval of Kiev’s attempt at using military force to regain control of the largely Russian-speaking east calling it “criminal.” Russia has already amassed over 40,000 troops on its border with eastern Ukraine, and reserves the right to invade the sovereign nation if it feels that ethnic Russians are “in danger.”

Dimitri Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted that the Ukrainian government has negated the peace agreement signed by Russian, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union in Geneva, Switzerland saying, “the Kiev regime ordered combat aircraft to fire at civilian towns and villages, launching a ‘punitive operation’.”

On the other hand, Ukrainian President, Oleksander Turchynov asserted that the Russians are to blame for the events in eastern Ukraine, stating that Moscow has been supporting separatists in the east who were, “putting civilians in danger, seizing hostages and creating an atmosphere of terror and violence.”  He also stated that the situation has been difficult due to the separatists use of “human shields.”

Because of the violence on Friday, the European Commission has been closely monitoring the situation, however, because Ukraine is not a part of the European Union, itself and NATO will not intervene militarily. However, the Russian Foreign Ministry asserted, without evidence, that there were English-speaking officers among the Ukrainian military attackers and that American mercenaries would not be in Ukraine without the approval of the U.S. State Department and has stated that there should not be any external influence in Ukraine’s affairs.

Both sides are blaming the other for the current state of affairs in Ukraine, with Kiev and the West saying that Russia is behind the separatists in order to destabilize the region and annex it as it did to Crimea. While Putin did admit that he had troops on the ground in Crimea to help move it towards the referendum to become a part of Russia, he denies any involvement in the uprising to the east.

On May 11th, pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine plan to hold a referendum, much like the one held in Crimea in March, to gain more autonomy from Ukraine in order to have stronger ties with Moscow. The government in Kiev however has already promised to look into constitutional reforms before the national elections to be held on May 25th to grant more economic rights to regions in dealing with Russia and to grant more protections to Russian speakers in the region.

Russia has been pushing for Kiev to move to more of a federal system which would, in effect, grant more powers to regions and less to the central government in Kiev. Such a move would keep the eastern, pro-Russian regions of Ukraine somewhat under Moscow’s influence.

By Nathaniel Pownell
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Voice of America
The New York Times



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