Four people were killed and nearly 30 injured in the city of Slovyansk. President Francois Hollande warns of civil war unless elections held on May 25. Flights into Donetsk Airport were halted Tuesday.
Foreign ministers from across Europe and beyond were meeting Tuesday in Vienna, Austria, in the latest international effort to rein in the spiraling crisis in Ukraine. The situation in Ukraine is expected to dominate discussions at the Council of Europe meeting, although diplomatic efforts have apparently done little so far to ease tensions, CNN informs.
On Monday, Ukrainian security forces battled pro-Russian militants in the eastern flashpoint city of Slovyansk on as Kiev tackled the gunmen who have overrun the region.
Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said four people were killed and nearly 30 injured in the city. It quoted local residents as saying the attackers had shot at residential buildings and set them on fire. Militants blamed Ukrainian forces for the civilian casualties.
Both Russia and Ukraine are among the 47 member states of the Council of Europe.
Kiev and many in the West fear Russian President Vladimir Putin is fomenting trouble in order to increase his influence and justify possible intervention in defense of Russian speakers in the region.
Speaking on French TV station BFMTV on Tuesday, French President Francois Hollande spelled out what may be at stake in Ukraine. “The main goal we have is that the presidential election should be held in Ukraine on May 25,” he said. “Otherwise, there will be chaos and civil war. Vladimir Putin wishes today that this election does not take place.”
Amid the unrest in eastern Ukraine, flights into Donetsk Airport were halted Tuesday. A notice on the website for Donetsk Airport on Tuesday stated that “by order of State Aviation Authority of Ukraine … arrival and departure of all aircraft from Donetsk airport has been temporarily suspended.”
A number of administrative buildings in the city of Donetsk have been seized by armed pro-Russian groups. But it was the rebel stronghold of Slovyansk that was the focus of efforts Monday by government forces to regain control from the militants.
Military gains were evident on the main highway into the city as the security forces moved in. A CNN team on the ground saw a substantial number of militants bolster their defensive positions and checkpoints inside the city. One civilian car was hit in the fighting, its exterior damaged by bullet holes.
NATO commander Philip Breedlove predicts no invasion
NATO’s top military commander, General Philip Breedlove (photo), said he does not think Russia will invade Ukraine, adding that the Kremlin has other ways to achieve its goals, the Voice of America informs.
Breedlove told an audience in Ottawa, Canada Monday that he thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin will keep doing what he is doing – creating unrest, discrediting the Ukrainian government and stirring up a separatist movement. He predicted Moscow will keep a hold on eastern Ukraine without sending regular troops across the border.
The NATO commander said he is certain Russian special forces are in Ukraine. But he said it is not known if they were the ones who shot down three Ukrainian helicopters with missiles last week.