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Moscow blames radicals for deadly clashes in Ukraine, EU leaders ponder sanctions against government

Published time: February 19, 2014 09:19
Edited time: February 19, 2014 12:37
Anti-government rioters clash with the police on Independence Square in Kiev early on February 19, 2014. (Reuters / Sergei Supinsky)

Anti-government rioters clash with the police on Independence Square in Kiev early on February 19, 2014. (Reuters / Sergei Supinsky)

Moscow believes the deadly clashes in Kiev were an attempt at a coup by radicalized protesters. EU leaders have quite an opposite view, calling for sanctions against Ukrainian government officials.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry described the violence in Ukraine as an attempt at a coup d’etat and a “brown” revolution, accusing European politicians and institutions of “refusing to admit that all of the responsibility for the actions of radical forces in Ukraine rests with the opposition.”

The Russian side is demanding the leaders on the streets to stop the violence in their country, immediately resume dialogue with the lawful government without threats and ultimatums,” the statement reads.

The Kremlin has also interpreted the violence in Ukraine as a coup attempt. President Putin’s spokesman said that “from the point of view of the Russian leadership”, all of the responsibility for the bloodshed could be laid at the door of “the extremist forces.”

Twenty-six people were killed overnight in the most violent clashes yet to have occurred between security forces and protesters since the opposition took to the streets of Kiev in November 2013. Ten of the casualties are Ukrainian police officers, who died of gunshot wounds, as did the rest of the victims, the Interior Ministry reported.

It added that up to 700 people were injured, more than 70 of those being policemen.

Kiev, February 18, 2014. (AFP Photo / Anatolii Boiko)

The Ukrainian Health Ministry officially confirmed that a journalist from the local ‘Vesti’ newspaper, Vyacheslav Veremey, died in Kiev after a gunshot wound.

The Ukrainian Ministry of the Interior believes the casualties in the clashes could have been killed by the radicals, because the police do not use fire arms.

"Taking into consideration the nature of the dead civilians’ wounds and also the nature of the weapons, which have been confiscated, we can assume that these wounds were inflicted by violent protesters,” a statement at the Ministry’s website says. “Police officers and interior troops do not use fire arms. Law enforcers are only using non-lethal weapons.”

Some of the European leaders have not been convinced and have been quick to lay the blame for the violence on the Ukrainian president. The Swedish Foreign Minister said on Twitter that blood was on Yanukovich’s hands.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague was less emotional, but also accused the government of allowing the bloodshed to happen.

Several EU leaders have already spoken of introducing sanctions against the Ukrainian leadership, who they view as responsible for the crisis.

Germany, which previously refused to back Washington's calls for sanctions against Ukraine's government, could soon have a change of heart, according to German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier .

"Whoever is responsible for decisions that lead to bloodshed in the center of Kiev or elsewhere in Ukraine will need to consider that Europe's previous reluctance for personal sanctions must be rethought,'' he said, according to AP.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on Wednesday he would be pressing European Union leaders to impose sanctions on Ukraine's government.

"I will today hold talks with the leaders of the biggest EU countries and institutions, and persuade them to impose sanctions - personal and financial," Tusk told a special session of the Polish parliament, Reuters reports. "I hope that such a stance from Poland will help the EU as a whole in taking fast decisions."

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders has also supported sanctions against the Ukrainian government, according to Itar-Tass.

Earlier, US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey R. Pyatt blamed Viktor Yanukovich for the escalation of the crisis.

"From this moment on, the USA holds Yanukovich responsible for everything that happens in Ukraine," he told the Zerkalo Nedeli newspaper, following a meeting with Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara.

Moscow believes that this accusatory position of the US could have, in fact, contributed to the escalation of violence Kiev has been witnessing, and, holding the president solely responsible for the crisis, is giving carte blanche to extremist radical forces out on the streets.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday it considered the crisis “a direct result of the permissive policy exercised by those western politicians and European structures, who from the very beginning turned a blind eye to the aggressive actions of the radical forces in Ukraine.