3 dead in east Ukraine, Putin warns of 'abyss'
Mariupol, Ukraine, April 17, 2014
Separatists attacked a Ukrainian national guard base overnight and Kiev said three separatists were killed, the worst bloodshed yet in a 10-day pro-Russian uprising in east Ukraine, overshadowing crisis talks to resolve the conflict.
Ukrainian, Russian and Western diplomats arrived for the meeting in Geneva, but there was little hope of any progress in resolving a confrontation that has seen armed pro-Russian fighters seize whole swathes of Ukraine while Moscow masses tens of thousands of troops on the frontier.
President Vladimir Putin, who overturned decades of post-Cold War diplomacy last month by declaring Russia's right to intervene in neighbouring countries and annexing Ukraine's Crimea region, accused the authorities in Kiev of plunging the country into an "abyss".
Kiev fears he will use any violence as a pretext to launch an invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces.
"Instead of realising that there is something wrong with the Ukrainian government and attempting dialogue, they made more threats of force ... This is another very grave crime by Kiev's current leaders," Putin said in a televised question-and-answer session with the Russian public that has become an annual event.
"I hope that they are able to realise what a pit, what an abyss the current authorities are in and dragging the country into," said Putin, who dismissed as "rubbish" accusations that Russian agents were acting in east Ukraine.
At the national guard headquarters in Mariupol there was clear evidence that the building had come under attack.
A single grey police jeep was inside the compound on Thursday morning with broken windows, flat tyres and bent doors. The gates of the compound had been flattened. There were shell casings outside the gates and several unused petrol bombs.
"They came here around 8:15 p.m., demanding that we surrender our weapons and join the people. There were some women with them, but then they left," said police Major Oleksandr Kolesnichenko, deputy commander of the base.
"Then they used a truck to break through the gate. There was some incoming fire. I could not see who was shooting - it was dark," he said. "We fired first in the air. We fired warning shots after they entered the compound. We had no casualties. We are safe."
A separatist representative, who gave his name only as Sergei, said there had been a peaceful rally at the base.
"We had a peaceful rally to urge the police to join the people. The commander of the compound warned he would order troops to shoot to kill."
"Then there was shooting. Some people came with Molotov cocktails. We have verified that one person is dead and more than 10 wounded."
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said an armed group of about 300 separatists attacked the base with guns and petrol bombs. Three separatists were killed and 13 wounded, he said. No guardsmen were hurt.
The new deadly clashes took place hours after a modest Ukrainian military operation to recapture territory elsewhere from armed pro-Russian rebels ended in disarray on Wednesday, with troops surrendering rather than open fire. - Reuters