Reuters & PTI
Armed separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk seized a bus carrying international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Friday, Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said.
The separatist leader in Slavyansk told reporters a problem has arisen when the observers tried to pass a separatist checkpoint, and that there was an Ukrainian “spy” among the group. But he did not say where they were.
The interior ministry in Kiev said the group, which included 7 OSCE representatives and five members of the Ukrainian armed forces, was being held in the building of the state security agency (SBU) in the city which has been occupied by pro-Russian separatists. “Negotiations are going on for their release,” a ministry statement said.
Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, de facto mayor of Slavyansk, told reporters he believed a problem had arisen when the OSCE observers arrived at a checkpoint on the edge of the city manned by separatist fighters. “What the situation was I do not know,” he said. “It was reported to me that among them (the OSCE group) was an employee of Kiev’s secret military staff.”
“People who come here as observers bringing with them a real spy: it’s not appropriate.”
Kiev also accused Moscow of seeking to trigger a “third world war” Friday as military tensions soared in east Ukraine and US President Barack Obama led a diplomatic charge against Russia.
A rocket-propelled grenade blew up a Ukrainian military helicopter sitting on the tarmac at a base near the eastern town of Kramatorsk, officials in Kiev said. The pilot escaped but was wounded. Smoke spewed in the sky over the nearby rebel-held town.
The developments prompted German Chancellor Angela Merkel to call Russian President Vladimir Putin to voice “great concern” over the situation and to urge implementation of a Geneva accord signed a week ago that was meant to defuse tensions.
Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert also warned of fresh sanctions against Russia, telling reporters in Berlin: “Sanctions are already in place… you have to face the facts — in case nothing changes — its important to be prepared for more.”
Ramping up the Cold War-style rhetoric, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of trying to spark a global conflict.
“The world hasn’t forgotten the Second World War and Russia wants to start a third world war,” he said.
“Russia’s support for the terrorists in Ukraine constitutes an international crime and we call on the international community to unite against Russian aggression.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry said the Kremlin was making an “expensive mistake” by meddling in Ukraine, stressing that further Western sanctions on Moscow were poised to be unveiled.
Moscow, Kerry said, was trying to “actively sabotage the democratic process through gross external intimidation”, and described the latest Russian military drills as “threatening”.