East Ukraine separatists refuse to comply with agreement

Militant leader says pro-Russian groups not bound by deal between Urkaine and Russia

Pro-Russian armed men stand guard inside the mayor’s office in Donetsk. Deep mistrust exists between the pro-Russian groups and the Western-backed government in Kiev. Photograph: Reuters

Pro-Russian armed men stand guard inside the mayor’s office in Donetsk. Deep mistrust exists between the pro-Russian groups and the Western-backed government in Kiev. Photograph: Reuters

Fri, Apr 18, 2014, 11:18

The self-declared leader of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Denis Pushilin, has said that he did 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.

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 11th.

The agreement, brokered by the United States, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union in Geneva yesterday offered the best hope to date of defusing a stand-off in Ukraine that has dragged East-West relations to their lowest level since the Cold War.

Enacting the agreement on the ground though will be difficult, because of the deep mistrust between the pro-Russian groups and the Western-backed government in Kiev, which this week flared into violent clashes that killed several people.

The fact any deal was reached at all came as a surprise, and it was not immediately clear what had happened behind the scenes to persuade the Kremlin, which had up to that point shown little sign of compromise, to join calls on the militias to disarm.

In Slaviansk, a city that has become a flashpoint in the crisis after men with Kalashnikovs took control last weekend, leaders of the pro-Russian gunmen were holding a meeting inside one of the buildings they seized on how to respond to the Geneva agreement.

On the street, there was little change. In front of the Slaviansk mayor’s office, men armed with Kalashnikovs peered over sandbags which had been piled higher overnight. Separatists remained in control of the city’s main streets, searching cars at checkpoints around the city.

“Are we going to leave the buildings so that they can come and arrest us? I don’t think so,” said a man guarding the road to the security office, another building the separatists seized, who identified himself as Alexei.

But he acknowledged that the Geneva talks had changed the situation.

“It turns out Vova doesn’t love us as much as we thought.” said Alexei, using a diminutive term for Vladimir Putin, the Russian president viewed by many of the separatist militias in eastern Ukraine as their champion and protector.

Mr Putin overturned decades of post-Cold War diplomacy last month by declaring Russia had a right to intervene in neighbouring countries and by annexing Crimea.

Moscow’s takeover of the Black Sea region, followed the overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovich, after months of street protests prompted by his rejection of a trade deal with the EU.