NATO says up to 40,000 Russian troops are massed near Ukraine’s border. Kerry, Lavrov agreed on the need to resolve the security situation peacefully. The Council of Europe has overwhelmingly condemned the Russian annexation of Crimea.
Ukraine will not prosecute pro-Russian activists occupying official buildings in two eastern cities if they surrender their weapons, Ukraine’s acting President Olexander Turchynov says, according to the BBC.
The separatists are holding buildings in the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk. The Kiev authorities say their actions could give Russia a pretext to invade.
Ukraine has accused Russia of stirring up the unrest. Moscow has denied that.
NATO says up to 40,000 Russian troops are massed near Ukraine’s border.
Ukraine has launched what it calls an “anti-terrorist operation” to tackle the separatists in the east. On Wednesday Kiev said the stand-off must end within 48 hours.
Mr Turchynov told parliament in the capital Kiev there would be “no criminal prosecution of people who give up their weapons and leave the buildings”. “I am willing to do this by presidential order,” he said. Ukraine fears that the Russian separatist actions are a provocation similar to the protests that gripped Crimea days before Russian troops annexed the peninsula last month.
On Wednesday US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed on the need to resolve the security situation in eastern Ukraine peacefully, officials said.
The EU, Russia, US and Ukraine are to meet next week for talks on the crisis.
In Donetsk the separatists have built huge barricades outside the 11-storey regional administration building they are occupying. They stormed the building on Sunday.
In Luhansk separatists are holding the local headquarters of the SBU state security service.
Meanwhile, European MPs in the Council of Europe – the continent’s top human rights watchdog – have overwhelmingly condemned the Russian annexation of Crimea and the referendum there, in a strongly worded resolution.
Fire breaks out in Communist Party office in Kiev
Premises on the first and second floors of the Communist Party office in Kiev, on Borisoglebskaya Street, have been destroyed in the fire, the press service of State Emergency Service of Ukraine reported on Thursday, itar-tass.com reports. The fire in the four-story office building broke out at 11.20 pm Moscow time on Wednesday. No injuries were reported. The fire was taken out by emergency services at 01.44 am on Thursday. The cause of fire is under investigation. According to preliminary information, it was arson. “The cause of fire is probably arson,” said the spokesperson for the State Emergency Service of Ukraine. “Fire cannot break out in three different places at the same time.”
Putin warns Europe of gas shortages over Ukraine debts
Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned European leaders that Ukraine’s delays in paying for Russian gas have created a “critical situation”, the BBC informs. Pipelines transiting Ukraine deliver Russian gas to several EU countries and there are fears that the current tensions could trigger gas shortages.
Russian state gas giant Gazprom says Ukraine’s debt for supplies of Russian gas has risen above $2bn. Gazprom said on Wednesday it could demand advance payments from Kiev for gas but President Putin said the company should hold off, pending talks with “our partners” – widely believed to mean the EU.