Nato denounces Russia as UN focuses on rights in Ukraine

Employees of Ukraine’s richest man help police restore order in port city

A woman and her daughter walk past a torn poster of Ukrainian politician and presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Valentyn Ogirenko

A woman and her daughter walk past a torn poster of Ukrainian politician and presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Valentyn Ogirenko

Sat, May 17, 2014, 01:00

The United Nations has warned of an “alarming deterioration” in respect for human rights in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, as Nato declared Russia’s actions in the region meant it could no longer be trusted.

Pro-Moscow rebels have seized official buildings in about 15 towns in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, but state efforts to oust them received a boost with the deployment in one city of “citizens patrols” comprising employees of Ukraine’s richest tycoon. Masked separatists largely melted away in Mariupol, a strategically important port on the Sea of Azov, after thousands of metal workers from factories belonging to Rinat Akhmetov joined forces with the beleaguered police force.

Groups of men wearing company jackets cleared barricades in the port, which lies between Ukraine’s border with Russia and the Crimean peninsula that Moscow annexed in March.

The few anti-government protesters left at the barricades complained of being betrayed by comrades who had been “bought out” by Mr Akhmetov, who after weeks of near-silence this week declared his support for a united Ukraine.

He said he did not support the rebels’ self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic”, which was doomed to isolation, but favoured a new constitutional structure in which Kiev would devolve many powers to Ukraine’s regions.


‘Targeted killings’
The UN’s human rights chief, Navi Pillay, yesterday denounced a wave of “targeted killings, torture and beatings, abductions, intimidation and some cases of sexual harassment” by anti-government groups in eastern Ukraine.

“Those with influence on the armed groups responsible for much of the violence . . . [must] do their utmost to rein in these men who seem bent on tearing the country apart,” she added, in clear reference to Russia.

The report said the UN monitors were also trying to verify reports of abuses by government forces, and referred to credible reports of people being detained by the army in a way that amounted to forced disappearance.

Moscow lambasted the UN dossier, however.


‘Political put-up job’
Russia’s foreign ministry said its “complete lack of objectivity, blatant discrepancies and double standards leave no doubt that its authors were performing a political put-up job aimed at clearing the name of the self-declared authorities in Kiev.”

An earlier UN report found no substance to Moscow’s repeated claims that Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine face widespread violence and discrimination from “fascist” supporters of the new Ukrainian government.

Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin has asserted his right to protect Russian speakers wherever they may be threatened, and the West says he has massed tens of thousands of troops close to the Ukrainian border amid spiralling tension.

Mr Putin insists he has no intention of invading eastern Ukraine, but his failure to condemn the separatist gunmen and repeated Russian comments raising doubts about the validity of next Sunday’s Ukrainian presidential election have caused concern.


‘No trust in Russia’
“After what we have seen in Ukraine, no one can trust the so-called guarantees given by Russia about sovereignty and integrity,” said Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

“We want Russia to respect its international obligations and stop trying to destabilise the situation.”