Ukraine separatist leader rejects Geneva deal

Leader of pro-Russian armed groups occupying buildings in eastern Ukraine says he will press ahead with May referendum.

    Ukraine separatist leader rejects Geneva deal
    Pushilin said his men will only consider leaving public buildings when the government in Kiev does the same [Reuters]

    The self-declared leader of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Denis Pushilin, has said that he does not consider his men to be bound by an agreement between Russia and Ukraine to disarm and vacate occupied buildings.

    "[Russian Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov did not sign anything for us, he signed on behalf of the Russian Federation," Pushilin, head of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, told journalists in Donetsk on Friday.

    Pushilin said his men will only consider leaving public buildings when the government in Kiev does the same. He said he was continuing preparations for a referendum on increased autonomy from Kiev on May 11.

    His comments came a day after the United States, European Union, Russia and Ukraine reached an agreement in Geneva on immediate steps to be implemented to ease the crisis in Ukraine.

    Thursday’s agreement laid out concrete steps to "restore security for all citizens" and crucially urged "all illegal armed groups" to disarm and vacate "seized buildings".

    It also puts on hold additional economic sanctions which the West had prepared to impose on Russia if the talks were fruitless, the AP news agency reported.

    "All sides must refrain from any violence, intimidation or provocative actions," a joint statement issued after the Geneva talks said.

    The agreement also gives amnesty to protesters who comply with the demands, except those found guilty of capital crimes.

    'Good day's work'

    John Kerry, the US secretary of state, called the deal the result of a "good day's work" but emphasised that the words on paper must be followed by concrete actions.

    He said those who had initially armed the groups were now responsible for making sure the disarmament took place, adding that he had warned his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, that Moscow would soon feel the brunt of new sanctions should it not follow through on its commitments under the agreement.

    Lavrov, speaking to reporters after the seven-hour negotiation, also spoke about the need for disarmament of unofficial armed groups, saying weapons should only be held by legitimate groups, and that the deal included "all regions of Ukraine".

    But US President Barack Obama conveyed skepticism about Russia’s promises to de-escalate the crisis, adding that Washington and its allies were ready to impose fresh sanctions if Moscow did not follow up on its commitments.

    "The question now becomes, will in fact they use the influence that they've exerted in a disruptive way to restore some order so that Ukrainians can carry out an election, move forward with the decentralisation reforms that they've proposed, stabilize their economy and start getting back on the path of growth and democracy and that their sovereignty will be respected?" said Obama.

    He did not say what additional sanctions might be in the offing if commitments made by Russia in Geneva do not materialise. US officials have prepared penalties on wealthy Russians in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, in addition to the entities they run.

    David Cameron, the British prime minister, pledged an extra $1.7m for a monitoring mission to Ukraine after speaking to Obama on Thursday, in order to fortify potential sanctions against Russia.

    "The Prime Minister and President agreed that in the meantime the EU and US should continue preparatory work on potential additional sanctions, so that we are ready to respond quickly if the agreement were not implemented," Cameron’s office said in a statement.

    International observers

    As part of the agreement, monitors with the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe will be tasked with helping Ukraine authorities and local communities comply with the requirements outlined in the agreement.

    It said Kiev's plans to reform its constitution and transfer more power from the central government to regional authorities must be inclusive, transparent and accountable, including through the creation of a broad national dialogue.

    Despite the moves towards de-escalating the violence in Ukraine, Kerry emphasised there was still a strong disagreement over the future of Crimea.

    "We are not giving up but we did not come [to Geneva] to talk about Crimea," he said of the peninsula which was annexed by Russia last month. He added that the aims of the meeting had been to move away from the spiralling violence currently dominating the situation in Ukraine.

    "Nobody has left behind the issue of Crimea," he said.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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