WASHINGTON (CBS News/CBSDC/AP) — The interim Ukrainian prime minister warns that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to restore the old Soviet Union.
“President Putin has a dream to restore the Soviet Union,” Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told NBC News. “And every day, he goes further and further.”
Yatsenyuk said Putin restoring the old Soviet Union would be a “disaster.”
“I consider that the biggest disaster of this century would be the restoring of the Soviet Union under the auspices of President Putin,” he told NBC News.
Yatsenyuk said only God knows what “the final destination” will be for Putin.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Ukraine’s government Monday of violating a peace agreement reached last week after an Easter shooting left three pro-Russian separatists dead at a checkpoint near the flashpoint city of Slavyansk.
The violence and traded accusations over who was behind it will be a sharp test for the new, fragile diplomatic achievement just as Vice President Joe Biden is due to arrive in Ukraine.
The pro-Russians manning the checkpoint at Bylbasivka told CBS News’ Holly Williams that members of a far right-wing, ultra-nationalist Ukrainian group attacked them in the early morning hours with sniper fire and stun grenades.
Bullet casings found at the scene seem inconsistent with the gun battle described to CBS News, however, and the far-right group has denied any involvement whatsoever, instead accusing Russian special forces of staging the attack.
The Ukrainian Security Service also said the attack was staged by provocateurs from outside the country.
Evidence allegedly showing the Ukrainian nationalist group was behind the attack was presented on Russian television, but some of the items — particularly a pristine business card said to have been left behind by the attackers — were met with widespread ridicule in Ukraine.
Lavrov’s remarks made it clear, however, that, at least as far as Moscow is concerned, it was nationalists behind the violation of the truce deal.
“Steps are being taken — above all by those who seized power in Kiev — not only that do not fulfill, but that crudely violate the Geneva agreement,” he said, according to the Reuters news agency.
“The authorities are doing nothing, not even lifting a finger, to address the causes behind this deep internal crisis in Ukraine,” added Russia’s top diplomat.
With the violence testing the recently forged truce agreement, Biden was to arrive in Ukraine Monday for talks with country’s government.
Williams says the focus of his visit will be to try and resolve the situation in the nation’s east, along the Russian border, where pro-Russian separatists have occupied public buildings in about 10 different towns and cities.
The agreement reached Friday in Geneva by Russia, the U.S., Ukraine and the European Union calls for armed groups to leave occupied buildings and disarm in the east and in Kiev. Thus far, neither pro-Russian insurgents in the east nor Ukrainian nationalist demonstrators in Kiev have budged.
In the center of Slavyansk, armed, masked pro-Russian militants remain in control of the streets.
The town’s self-appointed, separatist mayor said Sunday that he wants Russian troops to help defend the town. That plays into the fears of Ukraine’s leaders – who accuse Moscow of stirring up this insurgency.
Both Ukraine’s government and the U.S. worry that eastern Ukraine could see a re-run of what happened in Crimea just a few weeks ago, when separatist demonstrations were used as a pretext for Russia to send in thousands of troops and claim the region for itself.
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