THE UKRAINIAN government has launched a full-scale anti-terrorist operation in the country, after pro-Russian forces moved into half a dozen towns in eastern Ukraine.
The town of Slaviansk saw a reported gun battle yesterday, with at least one Ukrainian soldier and one pro-Russian fighter killed in the violent clashes.
Others were said to have been injured in the fighting after separatist forces in masks with machine guns moved into the town and took over the police station and other government buildings.
The towns of Kramatorsk and Druzhkovka are also said to have been taken over by militant forces.
Interim interior minister Arsen Avakov warned people in Slaviansk to stay indoors, adding: “The separatists are shooting to kill without warning against the approaching special forces.”
Acting president Oleksander Turchinov accused Russia of trying to take areas of Ukraine’s east, following the annexation of Crimea last month. Russia denies it is behind the attacks.
Nato’s secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen described the arrival of pro-Russian forces in the region as a “grave development,” referring to the reappearance of “men with specialised Russian weapons and identical uniforms without insignia, as previously worn by Russian troops during Russia’s illegal and illegitimate seizure of Crimea.”
A UK foreign office spokesman also condemned the violence, adding: “The latest occupations by armed groups of government buildings in towns in eastern Ukraine are a further dangerous escalation of an already dangerous situation.
“Assumptions that Russia is complicit are inevitable as long as Moscow does not publicly distance itself from these latest lawless actions. Russia must desist from steps which destabilise Ukraine and undermine the possibility of Contact Group talks.”
European foreign ministers will meet today to discuss next steps, the spokesman added.
Both the US and UK governments have indicated their willingness to step up sanctions on Russia if President Putin refuses to deescalate the violence in Ukraine.
On Friday the chancellor George Osborne warned the City to prepare for market volatility after signalling that he is prepared to bear the economic price of further sanctions.