Ukraine crisis: Leave or we’ll force you out, Interior Minister tells pro-Russian protesters in the east

Arsen Avakov said the occupation of state buildings by separatists in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv would not be tolerated for much longer

Brussels

Ukraine’s Interior Minister has warned separatists occupying state buildings in its eastern regions to leave within two days or face forced eviction, risking the anger of Moscow which has warned against any violence towards pro-Russian protesters.

Security forces have so far refrained from using force in the cities of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv, wary of warnings from Russia that military action remains on the table if ethnic Russians come under attack.

But the Interior Minister, Arsen Avakov, was clear that the occupations which began on Sunday would not be tolerated for much longer. "I want to repeat that there are two options: political settlement through negotiations and the use of force," Mr Avakov told reporters. "We are ready for both options."

Ukrainian, British and American officials have blamed Russia for stoking unrest in the three cities, potentially to create a pretext for an incursion similar to Moscow's annexation of Crimea last month. But the threat of force is not the only lever Russia wields: Ukraine is also heavily reliant on its neighbour for energy, raising fears Moscow could cut supplies as tensions escalate.

Authorities in Kiev failed to meet a deadline earlier this week to start repaying a £1.3bn bill to Russian state energy firm Gazprom. The Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, said that there were now grounds for insisting on upfront payments - something Ukraine cannot afford.

President Vladimir Putin, however, said he was willing to hold further consultations. "Taking into account the complex situation in Ukraine and the fact that we have not yet finished talks with the EU, I would ask Gazprom and the government to hold off on such a possibility," he said.

Ministers and officials from the US, Russia, EU and Ukraine are due to hold talks on the crisis next week, the first such joint negotiations since the crisis began in November, when then-President Viktor Yanukovych backed out of a trade agreement with the EU.

 

It was offers of generous loans and cut-price gas that helped convince Mr Yanukovych to steer his near- bankrupt nation back towards Russia. That decision sparked the protests which eventually led to the ousting of Mr Yanukovych's in February, and Moscow has not been so forgiving with the new pro-EU administration that took his place.

Prices for gas have gone up and pressure is mounting on other European nations to come up with alternative supplies, both for Ukraine and themselves, with nearly half of the EU's gas imports from Russia transiting through Ukraine. The tug-of-war over Ukraine's future has sent relations between the West and Russia to lows not seen since the end of the Cold War, with Russia's annexation of Crimea sparking a round of sanctions against dozens of Russian and Ukrainian officials.

European and US officials have in the past few days issued fresh warnings to Russia to stay out of Ukraine's affairs or face much broader economic sanctions. They accuse Moscow of covertly backing the hundreds of separatist protesters that stormed the state buildings on Sunday.

Pro-Russian activists at a barricade outside an occupied building in Donetsk (Getty) Pro-Russian activists at a barricade outside an occupied building in Donetsk (Getty)
The protesters are demanding referendums on independence similar to the one held in Crimea, but their calls do not have the backing of the majority of residents, many of whom are ethnic Ukrainians and are hoping presidential elections scheduled for the end of May may bring some stability.

Police have cleared protesters from the buildings in Kharkiv, but separatists have barricaded themselves behind tyres and razor wire in Donetsk and Luhansk.

Russia has denied any involvement in the events in eastern Ukraine, and today issued a statement saying the US and Ukraine had "no reason to be worried" about the reported build up of tens of thousands of troops along its border with Ukraine.

"Russia has stated many times that it is not carrying out any unusual or unplanned activity on its territory near the border with Ukraine that would be of military significance," the statement read.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
One Direction's Zayn Malik gazes at a bouquet of flowers in the 'Night Changes' music video
people
News
people
News
'Free the Nipple' film screening after party with We Are The XX, New York, America - 04 Feb 2014
news
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn