Guldimann tries to calm Ukraine fears

Pro-Russian masked armed militants guard barricades near Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, April 30, 2014 Keystone

There is no widespread popular separatist movement in eastern or southern Ukraine, according to Tim Guldimann, the Swiss diplomat serving as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) personal envoy to Ukraine.

This content was published on April 30, 2014 - 16:18 and agencies

But the situation remains tense and serious, with continued unrest in eastern regions bordering Russia, Guldimann told Reuters in an interview: “Many people are in precarious economic, social and political situations and many think Kiev won’t be able to respond to their problems.”

Guldimann, who is also Switzerland’s ambassador to Berlin, said the April 17 Geneva accord between Ukraine, Russia, the United States and the European Union had managed to “calm things down”. But he said there had been no substantial progress on the ground on stopping the violence, disarming illegal armed groups or evacuating occupied buildings.

He said patience was needed but “there are steps in the right direction”. He added that the May 25 presidential election in Ukraine should have a “stabilising influence”.

His comments came as Ukraine’s acting president said police and security forces were “helpless” to quell unrest in two eastern regions bordering Russia, and in some cases were cooperating with pro-Russian gunmen who have seized scores of government buildings and taken people hostage.

Oleksandr Turchynov said the goal now was to prevent the agitation from spreading to other territories.

"I will be frank: today, security forces are unable to quickly take the situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions under control," Turchynov said at a meeting with regional governors on Wednesday.

Turchynov instructed the governors to try to prevent the threat from overtaking more central and southern regions.

"Mercenaries and special units that are active on Ukrainian territory have been tasked with attacking those regions. That is why I am stressing: our task is to stop the spread of the terrorist threat first of all in the Kharkiv and Odessa regions," Turchynov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Russia has placed tens of thousands of troops near the border with Ukraine and Turchynov said the threat of a Russian invasion was real. He called for the creation of regional self-defense units throughout the country, according to Interfax.

The insurgents now control buildings in about a dozen cities in eastern Ukraine, demanding broader regional rights as well as greater ties or outright annexation by Russia. The militiamen are holding some activists and journalists hostage, including a group of foreign OSCE observers.

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