The situation in Eastern Ukraine is deteriorating. Security forces from the interim government in Kiev have been sent in in an effort to dislodge the pro-Russian protesters who are occupying government buildings in several cities. There have been armed clashes that have resulted in deaths on both sides.
The Associated Press is expressing some skepticism of the claims of the Ukrainian Interior Minister.
Ukrainian special forces exchanged gunfire with a pro-Russia militia in an eastern city Sunday, according to the interior minister, who said one Ukrainian security officer was killed and five others were wounded. It was the first reported gunbattle in east Ukraine, where armed pro-Russia men have seized a number of law enforcement buildings in recent days.John Kerry has issued another one of his stern warnings to Russia and VP Biden is on his way to Kiev.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a Facebook post that a Security Service officer was killed in Slovyansk, where the police station and local Security Service office were seized a day earlier by camouflaged armed men. He also reported an unclear number of casualties among the militia.
An Associated Press reporter on the ground didn't see any sign of violence when he arrived Sunday.
Unrest has spread to several municipalities in eastern Ukraine, including the major industrial city of Donetsk, which has a large Russian-speaking population.
"Militants were equipped with specialised Russian weapons and the same uniforms as those worn by the Russian forces that invaded Crimea. The secretary made clear that if Russia did not take steps to de-escalate in eastern Ukraine and move its troops back from Ukraine's border, there would be additional consequences."The really important question here is just how much of the protest activity in Eastern Ukrainian cities is being conducted by troops brought in from Russia and how much real support does it have from local Ukrainian residents. It does seem beyond reasonable doubt that Russia is encouraging and supporting the protest. However, there are also definite indications that there is real local support.
Word spread quickly through the few hundred pro-Russian protesters in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine: "The miners are coming!"
The crowd parted as a group of a dozen or so burly men in orange work helmets marched past barbed-wire and tyre barricades into the 11-storey administration building, which protesters seized last weekend as they demanded greater independence from Kiev.
"Glory to the miners!" the crowd began chanting. "Glory to Donbass!" they shouted, much as protesters at Kiev's Euromaidan demonstrations had shouted "Glory to Ukraine!" before they ousted the president, Viktor Yanukovych, in February.
Back at the Donetsk occupation, the hundreds of supporters who have gathered each day are a small number of the city's nearly one million residents. But if the 100,000-plus employees of coalmining enterprises were to rise en masse, that would change the political picture drastically, in a similar fashion to the Donbass miners' strikes that helped bring about the breakup of the Soviet Union.A plausible reading of the on the ground reality in Eastern Ukraine is that both sides are competing for the hearts and minds of the general populace. The active pro-Russian support is likely a fairly small number of people. Most of the people are likely waiting to see how things develop. More armed intervention coming from Kiev could tip the scales and give rise to real civil war.
"It's hard to arouse the miners, but when you do, there will be trouble," said Artyom, a former miner who was guarding the administration building on Friday night. "If the miners all rise up, it will be an economic, physical and moral blow. It will be hard for everyone."