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Russia, US, EU, Ukraine agree on de-escalation in Geneva

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All sides have agreed to steps to “de-escalate” the crisis in Ukraine (Source:BBC).All sides have agreed to steps to “de-escalate” the crisis in Ukraine (Source:BBC).The foreign ministers and diplomats meeting for emergency talks in Geneva on the crisis in Ukraine issued a joint statement Thursday aimed at de-escalating the tensions and ensuring the security of all Ukrainians.

'Concrete steps'

The statement -- which appears to be the biggest step toward calming the situation in days -- followed talks lasting several hours between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, his acting Ukrainian counterpart, Andriy Deshchytsia, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, cnn reports, adding that the pact calls for all illegal armed groups to be disarmed, all illegally seized buildings to be returned to their legitimate owners and all occupied public spaces to be vacated. It promises amnesty for protesters who leave buildings and give up their weapons, apart from those convicted of capital crimes, reports cnn, adding that it also urges a halt to violence in Ukraine and condemns all extremism, racism and religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism, in the country.

"What is important is that these words are translated into actions and none of us leave here with the sense that the job is done, because the words are on the paper," quotes the US Secretary of State John Kerry the media. "The job will not be done until these principles are implemented and are followed up on."

Kerry warned that Russia could face "further costs" if the situation does not de-escalate in line with the concrete steps set out in the statement. Ukraine's leaders must also play their part in calming the situation, he said.

Asked about what NATO has said is a large Russian troop build-up near the border with Ukraine, Kerry said "our hope is" that Russia will withdraw more troops from the area as steps to de-escalate the Ukraine crisis are implemented.

Russiaindicates that it has withdrawn one battalion from the area in response to the West's calls for deescalation, Kerry said.

All sides have agreed to ask for monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has a mission in Ukraine, to help implement the measures.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed negotiations, while stressing that the situation in Ukraine remains "extremely volatile."

Mr Lavrov earlier said that long-term constitutional reforms were necessary in Ukraine, but added that all parties involved in the Geneva talks had agreed the crisis needed to be "regulated by Ukrainians themselves".

The Russian foreign minister also insisted his country had no desire to send troops into Ukraine.

Mr Kerry described the talks as "a good day's work", but said words had to be turned into actions and that he would have no choice but to impose tougher sanctions on Russia if Moscow failed to demonstrate that it was serious about lowering tensions in Ukraine.

He said the extent of the crisis had been highlighted in recent days by the "grotesque" sending of notices to Jews in eastern Ukraine, demanding that they register themselves as Jewish.

The notices, which purport to be from the pro-Moscow authorities in Donetsk, have caused alarm in the Jewish community, although their authenticity has not yet been verified.

Mr Kerry also praised the Ukrainian government for the restraint it had shown in the face of what he said was provocation from pro-Moscow elements.

Speaking for the Kiev government, Mr Deshchytsia said: "We disagree with Russia on many things, but what we agreed today is to put an effort, joint efforts, to launch the process of de-escalation in eastern Ukraine. And Russia committed it to be part of this process.

"So it will be a test for Russia, if Russia wants to really show that it is willing to help the stability in these regions."

Baroness Ashton said the agreement contained "concrete steps that can be implemented immediately".

But correspondents say the deal has so far had little impact on the ground, with pro-Russian supporters continuing to occupy a local government building in Donetsk.

A protest leader said they would not leave unless pro-European demonstrators in Kiev's Maidan Square packed up their camp first.

Earlier Russian President Vladimir Putin had warned that Ukraine was heading into an "abyss" by confronting pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country.

He said claims that Russian agents were acting in the region were "rubbish".

Seeking another referendum

In an ominous echo of what happened in Crimea just weeks ago, the Donetsk People's Republic wants to follow that region's lead and hold a referendum early next month, said Denis Pushilin, the self-declared chairman of the people's council. The referendum will essentially ask residents which country they want to be a part of: Russia or Ukraine.

Moscowannexed the Crimean peninsula last month after its predominantly Russian-speaking residents voted yes in a referendum.

The moved was deemed illegal by Kiev and the West, but Putin has repeatedly defended it.


The interim authorities in Kiev said Thursday that Ukraine has tightened its border controls while efforts to contain the uprising in the east continue.

Sergey Astahov, a spokesman for Ukraine's Border Service, said it is restricting the entry of Russian males aged 16 to 60, letting them enter only under exceptional circumstances. He said the tighter checks are due to the ongoing anti-terror operation announced this week by the government.

Russian airline Aeroflot also said on its website that Ukraine was imposing tighter border controls on Russian men and Ukrainian citizens registered in Crimea and the Crimean city of Sevastopol.

Russiais demanding an immediate official clarification from Ukraine regarding the steps taken by the Ukrainian border services, the Russian Foreign Minister said in a statement Thursday.

Threats of sanctions

Kievand the West dispute Putin's claims that Russia is not involved in the current unrest in Ukraine's east. They accuse Moscow of backing the pro-Russian protesters and point to the 40,000 Russian troops that NATO says are assembled near the Ukrainian frontier.

Moscowinsists that the troops are merely conducting exercises.

There are no Russian divisions in eastern Ukraine, Putin reiterated Thursday, adding that all evidence pointed to the groups causing the unrest being local residents.

He said the presence of tanks and planes constituted "a very serious crime" that authorities in Kiev were committing.

Moscowhas warned in the past week that Ukraine was "on the brink of a civil war."

On Wednesday, Obama said Russia's actions risk more sanctions for the country.

"What I've said consistently is that each time Russia takes these kinds of steps that are designed to destabilize Ukraine and violate their sovereignty, that there are going to be consequences. And what you've already seen is the Russian economy weaker, capital fleeing out of Russia," Obama told CBS.

Obama has signed off on sending more nonlethal aid to the Ukrainian military, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced Thursday.

The Pentagon is still not supporting lethal aid for Ukraine "because it could exacerbate the situation, which is what we do not want to do," a senior Pentagon official said.

"If we provide arms and ammunition, then we are in the fight. We don't want that."

Ukrainian lawmakers voted Thursday to reinstate military service in the country. Until it was dropped last year, it was compulsory for all males in Ukraine.

Lawmakers have now voted to bring it back because of what has been termed "Russian aggression." The legislation must still be signed off by the acting President.

Advance stalled

Since Yanukovych's ouster, Kiev's interim government has faced a wave of protests in the predominantly Russian-speaking east.

Pro-Moscow protesters took over government buildings in several cities.

And when Ukraine's armored vehicles rolled Wednesday, its attempt to take back eastern towns from pro-Russian militants seemed to stall.

In Donetsk, six armored vehicles sent into the nearby city of Kramatorsk in the morning later showed up carrying Russian flags in Slaviansk.

Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov told CNN's Christiane Amanpour those Ukrainian soldiers "preferred to switch sides and join the people."

Ukraine's Defense Ministry said the vehicles had been seized by militants.

Gas supplies

Separately, in a reply to a letter from Putin in which he warned of gas supply disruption, the European Union said it was willing to hold talks with Russia and Ukraine on gas security.

"We believe that this approach allows for the most useful process with the Russian Federation and other third parties," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in his reply, released by the commission.

Russiasupplies 30% of Europe's gas needs. It has threatened to cut off supplies to Ukraine because of debts.

April 18 2014, 09:16

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