WASHINGTON DC —
A deadly shootout in eastern Ukraine has cast doubt on the viability of Thursday’s accord between Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union aimed at pacifying Ukraine’s restive eastern territories.
Although much is unclear about Sunday’s gun battle at a checkpoint manned by pro-Russian separatists, the incident shattered an Easter truce and appeared to dash already-scant hopes for a swift end to the unrest.
Russian and Ukrainian officials traded accusations of responsibility for the shootout and the worsening chaos engulfing eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk spoke on NBC’s Meet the Press television program broadcast in the United States.
“[Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin has a dream to restore the Soviet Union," said Yatsenyuk. "And every day he goes further and further, and God knows where is the final destination.”
The prime minister demanded Moscow adopt a hands-off policy towards his country.
“They have their own country. We have our own country," said Yatsenyuk. "If Russia pulls back, we will have Ukraine as one united, territorially-integral, sovereign and independent state.”
Russia’s ambassador in Washington, Sergey Kislyak, says Moscow’s only goal is to protect ethnic Russians in Ukraine. The ambassador appeared on Fox News Sunday.
“We just want the Ukrainians to find a way of dialogue, a new constitution that would help them live in a country that is democratic, that supports the rights of all the ethnic groups, including, certainly, Russians," Kislyak said.
Kislyak said Russia remains committed to last week’s international accord that called for disarming militants in eastern Ukraine. Even before Sunday’s shootout, U.S. President Barack Obama said he was not sure the deal would work.
“My hope is that we actually do see follow-through over the next several days," Obama said. "But I don’t think given past performance that we can count on that, and we have to be prepared to potentially respond to what continue to be efforts of interference by the Russians in Eastern and Southern Ukraine.”
Some U.S. lawmakers are urging the administration to take additional steps to pressure Russia. Appearing on NBC, Republican Senator Bob Corker said U.S. sanctions have had no effect on Moscow.
“To me, unless they [Russia] immediately begin moving the 40,000 troops on the border, which are intimidating people in Ukraine, unless they begin immediately moving them away, I really do believe we should be sanctioning some of the [Russian] companies in the energy sector -- Gazprom and others," Corker said. "I think we should hit some of the large banks there. And certainly we should beef up our security relationships with Ukraine.”
The Obama administration has ruled out lethal military assistance to Kyiv, and said it stands ready to expand existing sanctions against Russia and order new ones.