Ukraine has sent in troops to clear out occupied government buildings in the city of Sloviansk, sparking a new round of violent clashes in the eastern part of the country. The fighting comes one day after President Oleksandr Turchynov announced that Kiev would move forward with "counter-terrorism" efforts in the east. Some outlets are reporting that a number of Russia separatists have been killed in clashes with Ukrainian soldiers. The BBC describes the scene:
One roadblock near Sloviansk, in Donetsk region, could be seen on fire amid reports that separatists had abandoned it when Ukrainian soldiers approached. As many as five separatists were killed, according to Ukraine's interior ministry. An aide to Sloviansk's self-appointed mayor said two people had died.
The interior ministry has said that Ukrainian officials distributed leaflets in Slavyansk calling on people to stay calm, stay inside of their houses, and not to allow children on to the streets unaccompanied. People should not fall to "provocations" and should not obey orders of the “illegal self-proclaimed authorities” of the city. In response, Viacheslav Ponomariov, the city's self-proclaimed mayor has threatened to “shoot on sight everyone possessing this leaflet.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin, not surprisingly, appears to be seizing on the event as justification both for the previous annexation of Crimea, and a pretext for further incursions into Ukraine. He said using the army against the Ukrainian people is "a very serious crime" that would have "consequences." The Russian army claims they've been "forced" to launch news military drills along their border with Ukraine as a response.
According to reporters on the ground, Ukraine had set up a checkpoint at Sloviansk earlier today:
The new government checkpoint on the Sloviansk to Artyomisk road pic.twitter.com/yf135lQQRc— Daniel Sandford (@BBCDanielS) April 24, 2014
Just passed a Ukraine army checkpoint on the outskirts of #Sloviansk. APCs and soldiers. Friendly. Waved us through.— Matt McGarry (@mattmcgarry) April 24, 2014
The Guardian's Alec Luhn confirmed that the checkpoint appeared peaceful, and said that a Ukrainian outpost commander told him the soldiers were tasked with making sure weapons weren't exiting or entering the city. Luhn reports that "about a dozen troops in two troop carriers were checking cars for weapons and explosives. Others were fortifying positions along the road with sandbags." The checkpoint appears to have been already dismantled, and it seems that, despite the Ukrainian troop deployment, pockets of the city remain unaffected:
Via @bishopk: No BBC teams in or near Sloviansk I have spoken to reporting any signs that army has entered town. Still investigating— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) April 24, 2014
Yesterday, the U.S. Army deployed troops for military exercises in Poland as a way to show support for its Eastern European allies — and possibly as a show of force warning Russia to behave. Today, President Barack Obama said that additional sanctions against Russia are "teed up," but that "they're unnecessary if in fact Russia would recognize that the government in Kiev is prepared to have serious negotiations that preserve the rights of all Ukrainians."
Putin admitted today that the sanctions are, indeed, hurting the Russian economy. But, he added, "this is of no critical character."