Putin ‘receiving’ help requests from east Ukraine

The Kremlin said President Putin is ‘very worried’ about the situation in Ukraine

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Russian President Vladimir Putin is receiving requests for help from pro-Moscow protesters in eastern Ukraine, and is watching the situation with “great concern,” his spokesman said on Monday.

“Unfortunately, we are receiving a lot of such requests from the regions of east Ukraine, addressed personally to Putin, with a request to help, to intervene in some form,” Russian news agencies quoted Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.

“The Russian president is watching the development of the situation in these regions with great concern.”

Western powers have accused Russia of backing separatists in eastern Ukraine. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said last week that Russian agents were active in the region.

On Monday Germany said “there are many signs that the armed groups active in eastern Ukraine are receiving support from Russia.”

“A look at the appearance, uniforms and weaponry of some of these groups hardly suggests that they are defence forces spontaneously formed by civilians.”

Germany sees Russia as having “a particular responsibility to prevent a further escalation, and to contribute to stabilising the situation in Ukraine,” the spokeswoman said.

“This includes withdrawing troops from the Ukrainian border, lowering gas prices and using moderate language. It must be clear that violence is not an option for resolving disputes, and this also goes for Russia.”

More sanctions

European Union foreign ministers agreed Monday to expand the list of those subject to sanctions for their role in the Ukraine crisis, EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton said.

“In light of events, we decided to expand the list of those subject to asset freezes and visa bans,” Ashton said, with 33 Ukrainian and Russian officials and business leaders, including members of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, already targeted.

The White Housesaid President Barack Obama would speak to the Russian president soon, perhaps later in the day, and made clear the United States was not considering lethal aid for Ukraine.

“We are looking at a variety of ways to demonstrate our strong support for Ukraine including diplomatically and economically,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

“We’re not actively considering lethal aid but we are reviewing the kinds of assistance we can provide,” he said.

In a bid to calm the situation, Ukraine’s interim president signaled support for a national referendum on turning the ex-Soviet republic into a federation with broader rights for its heavily Russified east, Agence France-Presse reported.

“We are not against holding a national referendum,” Oleksandr Turchynov told lawmakers.
He added: “I am certain that a majority of Ukrainians will support an indivisible, independent, democratic and united Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that Ukraine’s Russian-speaking eastern regions should be involved in drafting a new state structure that Kiev has said may be put to a referendum next month, Reuters reported.

Lavrov said it was not in Russia’s interests for Ukraine to break up, but that Moscow wanted Kiev to give all its citizens equal treatment.

He denied Ukrainian and U.S. allegations that Russia had undercover agents fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine and said he was seeking an explanation of media reports that the director of the CIA, John Brennan, had visited Kiev.

[With AP and AFP]