West to press Russia for peace in Ukraine

Talks in Geneva come after a blow to Ukraine's efforts to retake control of its eastern regions from pro-Russian rebels.

    Diplomats are due to start high-level talks on how to resolve the crisis in Ukraine, as pro-Russian separatists tightened their grip over the country's eastern regions.

    John Kerry, the US secretary of state, Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, Andriy Deshchytsia, Ukraine's foreign minister and Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign chief, are due to meet in Geneva on Thursday morning in a final attempt to engage with Russia before the west hits Moscow with additional economic sanctions.

    The meeting comes a day after pro-Russian forces seized armoured vehicles and weapons from government troops, in a blow to the Ukrainian army's attempt to retake control of Solvyansk and other cities in the east.

    Residents in the eastern city of Kramatorsk, 15km south of Slovyansk, encircled a column of Ukrainian armored vehicles. Masked gunmen, wearing combat gear and identifying themselves as pro-Russian militia, then forced the Ukrainian soldiers to surrender.

    One soldier said the Ukrainian troops defected to the pro-Russian side, but another suggested that they were forced at gunpoint to hand over the vehicles.

    "How was I supposed to behave if I had guns pointed at me?" the soldier, who did not identify himself, asked a resident.

    Pro-Russia forces also seized the police headquarters and the administration building in Slovyansk, demanding broader autonomy for eastern Ukraine and closer ties with Russia.

    Kiev continues to blame Moscow for the unrest in the region, as similar seizures occurred in at least 10 other cities in the east. 

    Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, continues to deny any involvement, and on Tuesday said that "the sharp escalation of the conflict places the country in effect on the verge of a civil war".

    Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the NATO secretary general, said the alliance would also respond to what he called Russian aggression in Ukraine.

    US warns Russia of further sanctions

    "We will have more planes in the air, more ships on the water and more readiness on the land," he said.

    The measures however amount to more air and sea patrols in the Baltic, some distance from the trouble in Ukraine.

    The US president, Barack Obama, also gave warning on Wednesday that Russia could expect further sanctions if it steps up support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

    "Mr Putin's decisions are not just bad for Ukraine, over the long term they're going to be bad for Russia," he said.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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