New violence has been reported in parts of eastern Ukraine less than a week after Russia, Ukraine and Western nations reached an initial agreement to resolve the ongoing crisis.
Russia’s foreign minister accused Ukraine’s interim government of violating the international accord, hinting that Russia is prepared for military intervention.
“Before giving us ultimatums, demanding that we fulfill demands within two or three days with the threat of sanctions, we would urgently call on our American partners to fully accept responsibility for those who they brought to power,” Sergey Lavrov told reporters on Monday, after U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Kiev to show support for the interim government.
Lavrov accused Ukrainian authorities of violating the agreement, saying the deal “is not only not being fulfilled, but steps are being taken, primarily by those who seized power in Kiev, that are grossly breaching the agreement reached in Geneva.”
Two bodies were reportedly pulled from a river in a city controlled by pro-Russian militants on Monday, the New York Times reports. This comes after at least three people were shot and killed at a checkpoint near the city of Slavyansk on Easter morning, Sunday.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement that placed blame on a militant Ukrainian nationalist group known as the Right Sector for the attack. A spokesman for Right Sector, Artyom Skoropatskiy, denied the claim, adding that the attack might have been a provocation from Russian special services.
This isn’t the first time Russian military and intelligence forces have been accused of being involved in the deepening crisis. While Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted to using unmarked soldiers last month in the Crimean peninsula, new photos endorsed by the Obama administration have shown that the masked men in eastern Ukraine might belong to the Russian military.
“There has been broad unity in the international community about the connection between Russia and some of the armed militants in eastern Ukraine, and the photos presented by the Ukrainians last week only further confirm this, which is why U.S. officials have continued to make that case,” Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, said Sunday.
If pro-Russian separatists do not vacate the Eastern Ukrainian government buildings they have occupied, per the Geneva agreement, Russia will be held responsible and possibly be met with new sanctions, American officials have said.
An international observer with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – an international organization that has been granted oversight of the affected towns – was reportedly denied entry into an eastern Ukrainian town for an unknown reason.
A spokesman for the OSCE told the Russian news agency Interfax that the monitor “could not access this town out of concern for security.” In at least three towns, pro-Russian militants have refused to vacate seized government buildings until what they call the “illegal” Kiev government disbands.
On the diplomatic front, Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told CNN that progress is slow, but it exists.
“I'm seeing reports this morning that at least one of these (occupied) government buildings now has a Ukrainian flag flying over it," he said. "And the OSCE has monitors on the ground who are reaching out, engaging with local political elites, seeing if there's a way to de-escalate the crisis."
The crisis has also taken a worrying turn affecting those reporting on it. Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine have allegedly detained a 29-year-old Ukrainian journalist accusing her of “war crimes.” A video posted by the Russian Internet channel Life News shows Irma Krat walking with masked men in combat gear after a news conference in Slaviansk, Reuters reports. And in Moscow, the deputy speaker of Russia’s Lower House, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, went on a rant at a pregnant journalist during a press conference that ended with the statement, “You come here too, journalist. OK, when I say,” he told his aides, “you run to her and violently rape her.”