Satellite images released by NATO this month appeared to show a Russian military build-up near the Ukrainian border
April 2014 – UKRAINE – The US says Russian military aircraft have entered Ukrainian airspace several times in the past 24 hours, amid rising tension in the east of the country. A Pentagon spokesman told the BBC late on Friday that the incidents had happened mainly near the border with Russia, but gave no further details. Earlier, pro-Russian separatists seized a bus carrying international military observers, Ukrainian officials said. Talks were under way to secure their release near the town of Sloviansk. Russia has tens of thousands of troops deployed along its side of the border with Ukraine as pro-Moscow separatists continue to occupy official buildings in a dozen eastern towns, defying the government in Kiev. The US and the EU appear to have moved closer to imposing further sanctions on Russia after a day of conference calls between Western leaders. Reports say the sanctions would target individuals and entities. Under current US and EU measures, assets freezes and travel bans have targeted a number of Russian officials.
Russia has accused the West of wanting to “seize” Ukraine. In a statement from the Pentagon, Col Steven Warren repeated US calls to take “immediate steps to de-escalate the situation.” He said the US had told Russian officials that US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel wanted to speak to his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu, but there had been no response so far. Mr. Hagel described Russian activity along the Ukrainian border as “dangerously destabilizing and very provocative.” Earlier this month, Ukraine and Russia struck an agreement in Geneva calling for separatists to leave official premises and give up their arms. The pact included an amnesty for those who left peacefully. But so far pro-Russian activists have refused to give in to the demands. On Thursday US Secretary of State John Kerry accused Moscow of trying to destabilize Ukraine. German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday said she had spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin to express her dissatisfaction with Russia’s lack of commitment to bring about a “peaceful path of discussion” with the separatists. Also on Friday, Ukraine’s interior ministry said armed separatists had seized seven representatives from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), as well as five Ukrainian army personnel and a bus driver.
Last weekend, Mr. Ponomaryov broadcast an appeal to President Putin asking for Russian troops to protect the city from “fascists” after three of his men died in a gunfight. Tensions have risen in recent days as Ukraine launched military raids to try to regain occupied buildings. At least two separatists have been killed in the raids which Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described as a “bloody crime.” Mr. Lavrov repeated the accusation made previously by Moscow that Ukraine was waging a war against its own people. Unrest in Ukraine began last November over whether the country should look towards Moscow or the West. Last month, Russia annexed Ukraine’s mainly ethnic-Russian Crimean peninsula. This followed a referendum in the region that backed joining the Russian Federation but which the West and Kiev deemed illegal. –BBC