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article imageDeadly Ukraine gunfight imperils Geneva deal to relax tensions

By Nathan Salant     Apr 21, 2014 in World
Slavyansk - A fatal gunfight involving pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine has imperiled last week's multi-nation accord aimed at reducing tensions in the troubled region.
At least three people were killed Sunday in an attack on an insurgent checkpoint near the city of Slavyansk, which had been taken over by separatists last week, according to the Reuters news service.
Leaders of Ukraine's interim government and the Russian Federation immediately accused each other of breaking the agreement to dismantle armed groups, agreed to in Geneva last week, and expressed doubts that the deal could succeed.
"The Easter truce has been violated," Russian's foreign ministry said in a statement, Reuters said.
"This provocation ... testifies to the lack of will on the part of the Kiev authorities to rein in and disarm nationalists and extremists," the statement said.
But Ukraine's national security service said agents from Moscow were responsible for what it called a "cynical provocation" at Slavyansk and for failing to live up to its part of the Geneva deal, Reuters said.
"The Russian side must be reminded about their obligations under the Geneva agreement to bring all necessary influence to bear on separatists to clear illegally held buildings, unblock roads, lay down arms and prevent any bloodshed," the security service said.
Separatists manning the checkpoint told Reuters that the gunfight unfolded after four vehicles approached the post outside Slavyansk at around 2 a.m. and began shooting.
"We had three dead, four wounded," a separatist fighter who said his name was Vladimir told Reuters.
The checkpoint guards returned fire and killed two attackers, who Vladimir said were members of the Ukraine's Right Sector nationalist movement.
Right Sector officials denied any role in the attack and blamed Russian special forces, Reuters said.
Rhetoric aside, the collapse of the Geneva agreement could lead to more bloodshed in eastern Ukraine and to an increase in economic sanctions imposed by the US and European Union at a time when East-West relations are at their lowest point since the Cold War.
An increase in sanctions could convince Moscow to cut vital fuel supplies it sells to Europe, racheting up tensions even higher.
But officials of the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, which was enlisted to supervise the stand-down and have opened discussions with both sides, said its observors were unable to enter Slovyansk.
Slavyansk's self-appointed pro-Russia mayor imposed a curfew on the city and called for Russian President Vladimir Putin [Unlink] to send peacekeeping forces to eastern Ukraine, Reuters said.
The Ukraine crisis started last year when pro-EU protesters forced pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovich to flee the country after he decided to align the country with Moscow.
Shortly after that, Moscow moved militarily to seize Crimea and to put tens of thousands of troops on the border with Ukraine.
Western nations then imposed travel and financial sanctions on government leaders in Russia and threatened further restrictions if the situation did not change.
But Russia has maintained throughout the conflict that it had an obligation to defend the Russian-speaking population of eastern Ukraine.
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