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Kiev pledges not to attack separatists as Russia defends troop deployments

The Ukrainian government pledged on Saturday not to attack separatists in the eastern part of the country over Easter as the Russian government justified the buildup of its forces at the border.

The Ukrainian foreign ministry promised “the suspension of the active phase of the anti-terrorist operation” among a list of government initiatives to defuse the crisis. A spokeswoman for the SBU state security service said on Saturday the suspension was “linked to the implementation of the Geneva agreement and the Easter holidays”.

In Moscow Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, said that an increase in troop levels near the border was caused by concern over instability in Ukraine.

“We … have forces in the region of the Ukrainian border. Some of these forces are based there permanently, others are there to reinforce, against the backdrop of what is happening in Ukraine itself,” he told Rossiya 1 television.

“Forgive me but, [Ukraine] is a country where there has just been a military coup, so naturally any country is going to take particular precautionary measures in terms of ensuring its security.”

He said as a sovereign state, Russia was free to deploy troops anywhere on its territory without restrictions. He denied allegations that the Russian military was interfering in events inside Ukraine. Peskov said such assertions were “completely wrong”. Previously the Kremlin said its forces were on routine exercises. Meanwhile, Russia’s foreign ministry said it would offer strong assistance to Ukraine to overcome its crisis, but emphasised that the ultimate responsibility for reducing tensions lies with Ukrainians, not outsiders.

The statement came two days after senior diplomats from Ukraine, Russia, the US and the European Union issued a statement calling for an array of actions to defuse tension, including the disarming of militant groups and the freeing of public buildings occupied by separatists.

Moscow said that the deputy foreign minister, Grigory Karasin, met Oleg Tsaryov, a pro-Russia candidate in the Ukrainian presidential election scheduled for 25 May.

“The Russian side noted that the questions of resolving the internal political crisis should be decided by Ukrainians themselves in close co-operation with a special monitoring mission” of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said a statement. “Russia is prepared to show the most wide support in this.”

The news came as an opinion poll conducted in south-east Ukraine showed a large majority did not want to be ruled by Moscow but also considered the Kiev government as illegitimate.

Among the 3,200 respondents across Ukraine’s entire mostly Russian-speaking south-east, the number of those opposed to Moscow taking control was 69.7%, according to the poll from Kiev’s Institute for International Sociology published in the Russian-language Weekly Mirror newspaper on Saturday.

In the Donetsk region, where separatists have declared an independent republic and demanded a referendum on autonomy, 38.4% said they backed Kremlin demands to federalise Ukraine with 41% wanting some decentralisation of power.

Around 74% of respondents said they view the acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, to be illegitimate, the poll said.

Source:The Guardian

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