Pro-Russian forces attack Odessa police station

Violence has broken out in at least 6 eastern Ukraine cities over the weekend, as Moscow is now claiming that it has "lost control" of it's pro-Russia militias:

The Kremlin said yesterday it was receiving "thousands" of pleas for help from Ukraine, warning that it could not control pro-Russian separatists in the country and now required help to resolve the worsening violence.

As Russian troops continued to conduct exercises near the Ukrainian border and the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, demanded the Russian government do more to defuse the situation or risk further economic sanctions, a Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was quoted as saying that Russia had "lost its influence" over separatists in the region.

Speaking in Moscow yesterday, Mr Peskov said: "People are calling in despair, asking for help. The overwhelming majority demand Russian help. All these calls are reported to [President] Vladimir Putin."

He made clear that the Russian government blamed the West for the worsening situation, while stressing the need for "dialogue" towards a peaceful resolution. "Kiev and its Western sponsors are practically provoking the bloodshed and bear direct responsibility for it. Those who recognise this junta as a legal power become an accomplice to this crime."

There is probably a germ of truth in the idea that Russia doesn't control many of the separatists in Eastern Ukraine. But it's ridiculous to think that those militias receiving Russian weapons and support can't be directed from Moscow.

For example, the pro-Russian protestors who attacked the Odessa police station are probably not under direct orders from Moscow:

Fighting in Ukraine grew more widespread as the Kiev government stepped up a campaign to quell a pro-Russian insurgency, with clashes reported in several cities and local defense battalions being formed in two regions that had previously been unaffected by the unrest.

Clashes in at least six eastern cities over the weekend followed the deadliest day of the weeks-old conflict on Friday, which involved clashes and a major fire in the Black Sea city of Odessa that left 46 people dead. Earlier that day, Ukrainian forces relaunched an offensive to reclaim control of the rebel stronghold of Slovyansk, surrounding the city.

On Sunday, several hundred pro-Russian protesters gathered outside Odessa's central police station, demanding the release of those arrested during Friday's fatal rioting, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry said. Local news reports said that the crowd threw bricks at the building and tried to force their way inside but were initially driven back.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Sunday blamed the country's security services for failing to stop Friday's violence in Odessa. He said there would be a "full, comprehensive and independent investigation," and that all those who helped instigate the violence would be tracked down.

A day earlier, the Interior Ministry said the regional police chief in Odessa had been fired, and that nearly 200 people had been arrested. Mr. Yatsenyuk said the entire regional police force would be reorganized.

The widening scale of the fighting opens a more dangerous phase of a conflict that has further loosened the new Ukrainian government's grip on the east, where a move for greater autonomy from Kiev has gained strength.

Ukraine's military operation in the east drew further criticism from Russia, which has repeatedly called the use of arms against civilians a criminal act. On Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry by phone that the fighting is "plunging the country into a fratricidal war."

On Sunday, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused Ukraine of "cleansing some communities and blocking others" in the operation and urged the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe to undergo an "objective evaluation of the developments in Ukraine."

But militias who operate check points and occupy government buildings in other cities are almost certainly dependent on Russia for much of its equipment and intelligence. The west has accused Russia of infiltrating some of its special forces into these cities, which makes sense given how organized some of these militias are.

If Russia is not going to allow voting in the May 25th referendum in areas where the separatists are most active, the vote will not be seen as legitimate. At this point, it seems unlikely that Kiev can regain control of these areas before the vote, making Putin the final arbiter of the independence of most of eastern Ukraine.


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