Update: The regional police chief of the east Ukrainian city of Donetsk said on Saturday he was quitting his post, bowing to demands from pro-Russian protesters. Above the police headquarters, the Ukrainian flag was no longer flying, and was replaced with a separatist flag, according to a Reuters witness. "In accordance with your demands I am stepping down," police chief Kostyantyn Pozhydayev told protesters.
So, one down?
* * *
While the primary story regarding Ukraine remains the stand off between Kiev and the Kremlin over nat Gazprom's gas deliveries and Kiev's overdue, and as of today - officially halted payments - not a weekend passes without some city in eastern Ukraine falling to what are now called "pro-Russian separatists" and this Saturday is no different. While last week it was the eastern cities of Luhansk, Donestk and Kharkiv that saw their government building taken over and occupied by the "separatists", today it was the turn of Slaviansk, where masked men armed with pistols and rifles stood guard near the police station as hundreds of locals gathered around, some building barricades with car tyres.
According to Reuters, the masked men were wearing orange and black ribbons, a symbol of the Soviet victory in World War II that has been adopted by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.
Slaviansk is in the Donetsk region about 150 km (90 miles) from the Russia-Ukraine border. Pro-Russian groups have also occupied public buildings in the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, and are demanding autonomy from Kiev.
As is well known by now, officials in Kiev's Western-leaning interim government say Russian forces may be preparing to cross the frontier into Ukraine on the pretext of protecting the pro-Russian activists from persecution, though Moscow denies this. And since the narrative is quite clear, and since Kiev itself has been the most desperate to escalate the conflict with Russia into outright war in hopes of getting NATO backing, it is never quite clear just who is behind any provocation.
And as if to formally accelerate the fallout Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said police would deal very firmly with the group in Slaviansk. "There is a difference between protesters and terrorists," he wrote on his Facebook page.
Bloomberg added that Ukraine has sent special forces troops to deal with camouflaged gunmen occupying police station in Slovyansk in Donetsk region of east Ukraine, also citing Avakov's Facebook account. He added that the ministry response "will be very tough" with "zero tolerance for armed terrorists."
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andrii Deshchytsia said Kiev was ready to listen to the demands of protesters in eastern Ukraine, but if negotiations fail, the police were ready to act. "We do consider that these actions are inspired and prepared in Russia and encouraged by some of the Russia agents in Ukraine," he told BBC radio.
At least 20 armed militants wearing mismatched camouflage outfits took over the police and security services headquarters in the eastern city of Slaviansk, about 150 km (90 miles) from the border with Russia, seizing hundreds of handguns.
Police said gunmen later took over the local headquarters of Ukraine's SBU security service.
Ukraine's acting foreign minister, Andriy Deshchytsia, urged Russia to end what he called "provocative actions" by its agents in a phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Government buildings in two other Russian-speaking cities, Donetsk and Luhansk, have been occupied by separatists since last weekend, in what the new pro-Europe leadership in Kiev says is part of a plan drawn up by the Kremlin to dismember Ukraine.
Of course, it is indeed true that Russia is merely waiting for the opportunity to respond to "special forces" retaliation and escalate a la Crimea to protect the ethnic Russians living there. The only question is whether Kiev will respond this time, or fold completely like it did when Russia annexed Crimea after its western "allies" did absolutely nothing to assist the new government.
Here is RT's take on events:
Anti-Kiev demonstrators have taken control of police office in the town of Slavyansk, Eastern Ukraine. The town's mayor, however, believes police have taken the side of the protesters, and are going to back their calls for a secession referendum. Kiev has promised a heavy-handed response and sent special forces there, but they are being blocked by demonstrators in the regional centre, Donetsk.
Clips from the scene:
Slaviansk is not the only city where separatists are revolting against the Kiev regime today: Donetsk is once again in the spotlight.
And in other news, Ukraine officially announced it was suspending payments to Russia for deliveries of gas. As has been extensively reported here, a large proportion of the natural gas which EU states buy from Russia is pumped via Ukrainian territory, so if Russia makes good on a threat to cut off Ukraine for non-payment of its bills, customers further west will have supplies disrupted.
Andriy Kobolev, chief executive of Ukraine's state-run energy company Naftogaz, said the increased price Russia was demanding for its gas was unjustified and unacceptable.
"Accordingly, we have suspended payments for the period of the price negotiations," Kobolev was quoted as saying in an interview with Ukraine's Zerkalo Nedely newspaper.
So congratulations America and Europe: you are now officially on the hook to pay for Gazprom's invoices. And to think it all started as a noble mission to "preserve democracy" in a country that sent its president in exile through a violent, Western-orchestrated coup.