Pressure is building on Russia to defuse the pro-Russian separatist movement operating in eastern Ukraine as armed separatists in eastern Ukraine are refusing to surrender their arms and cease occupying government buildings as a condition of a newly reached Geneva accord.
On Thursday diplomats from the United States, Ukraine, Russia, and the EU met together in Geneva, Switzerland and forged a new accord that is aimed at deescalating the growing instability in eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian separatists have seized government buildings by force while 40,000 Russian troops are massed along the Ukrainian-Russian border, sparking concerns that Russia may attempt to annex eastern Ukraine.
Under the terms of the new Geneva accord, greater constitutional reforms will be put forward which includes greater inclusivity of minorities along with a requirement for the disarming of illegal groups operating in Ukraine such as the armed pro-Russian separatists.
In return for laying down their arms, pro-Russian separatists would gain amnesty with the exception of those found guilty of capital crimes.
On Saturday pro-Russian separatists showed no signs of laying down their arms and maintained their position of occupying government buildings across eastern Ukraine with some separatists even inviting Russian Orthodox priests into occupied buildings to celebrate religious services.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has the responsibility to implement the terms of the new accord.
Monitors from the United States, Ukraine, Russia, and the EU will be invited to the region in advance of an important Ukrainian presidential election held in May.
US Secretary of State John Kerry told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov late on Friday that “full and immediate compliance” was needed of the accord.
Jen Psaki, Spokesperson from the State Department told reporters on Friday during a daily briefing that the United States is watching closely to see what steps Russia will be taking to deescalate the situation in eastern Ukraine.
“We’re going to test over the coming days whether this accord sticks, whether it will be implemented. And I think the clear answer to your question of what’s Russia’s engagement is if they do not play a role here, if they do not take steps they need to take, there will be consequences, and there will be consequences, certainly, for Russia” Psaki said.
The United States and its EU partners have threatened to take sanctions a step further from the limited sanctions already placed on Russian officials over Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
But their is little common agreement over how future sanctions will be imposed.
Moscow denies playing any role in the pro-Russian separatist movement in Ukraine although the West flat out rejects Russia’s denials that is has played no role in fomenting division across eastern Ukraine.
Last week Russian President Vladimir Putin said in his annual special Direct Line which was broadcast by Channel One, Rossiya-1 and Rossiya-24 TV channels that Russia ought to defend the rights of ethnic Russians and give them greater autonomy to determine their future.
“As for what is happening in southeastern Ukraine, we don’t know for sure. But we believe that we ought to do everything we can to help these people defend their rights and determine their fate on their own’ Putin said.
“This is what we will fight for. Let me remind you that the Federation Council of Russia gave the President the right to use the Armed Forces in Ukraine. I very much hope that I will not have to exercise this right and that, through political and diplomatic means, we will be able to resolve all the pressing, if not to say burning, issues in Ukraine” Putin added.
Although U.S. President Obama said last week that there is no military option on the table for Ukraine, CNN reported on Saturday the United States soldiers will start small scale military exercises in Poland and Estonia soon with approximately 300 troops. Poland and Estonia are both NATO members.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, told CNN Newsroom on Saturday that it is important for the United States and the EU to prepare for the worst in eastern Ukraine.
“I think the tentative agreement that was reached in Geneva may be a pause to take a breath here. That may be a positive but probably a small positive and I think we still need to prepare for the worst which means that we need to try to line up our European allies for very strong sector -wide sanctions if Russia moves in.” Schiff said.
“Russia has a big say in what goes on in eastern Ukraine, they have a big say in what these so-called protesters are doing that are taking over government buildings in the east. And if they wish to escalate and destabilize further they can do it and they need to know there will be a price to pay if they do” Schiff said.
As the pressure builds on Russia to defuse the armed separatists operating in eastern Ukraine, a senior negotiator from The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is expected to start negotiating the surrender of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine on Sunday.