Ukraine asks for U.N. peacekeepers in restive east

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“The people came to tell him that he is a puppet of the Kiev junta and they won’t accept him,” Sapunov said.

Acting Deputy Interior Minister Mykola Velichkovych acknowledged Monday that some police officers in eastern regions were switching sides.

“In the east we have seen numerous facts of sabotage from the side of police,” Velichkovych told reporters.

Ever since Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia in late February, Russia has demanded that Ukraine change its constitution to turn the country into a loose federal state. Ukraine has said that its giant neighbor has no business telling it what type of government to have.

After refusing demands for a referendum by separatists in the east, Turchynov indicated Monday that holding a nationwide referendum on Ukraine’s status was a possibility. He said such a vote could be held May 25, along with the presidential election.

Turchynov expressed confidence that Ukrainians would vote against turning the country into a federation and against its breakup.

Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, who was believed to be Yanukovych’s backer, issued a statement Monday calling for an end to the violence and urging talks.

The West has accused Moscow of fomenting the unrest.

“The fact is that many of the armed units that we’ve seen were outfitted in bulletproof vests, camouflage uniforms with insignia removed,” U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said during a U.N, Security Council session Sunday. “These armed units … raised Russian and separatist flags over seized buildings and have called for referendums and union with Russia. We know who is behind this.”

Vadim Karasyov, a political analyst in Kiev, said the Kremlin was using Ukraine’s ousted president to help foment separatist tensions.

“The Kremlin is implementing its scenario in the east, using Yanukovych and his loyalists, while Russian instructors are running the show,” Karasyov said.

For the last two months, Russia has also had tens of thousands of troops massed along Ukraine’s eastern border. Western governments have expressed fears that Moscow might use the violence in the mainly Russian-speaking region as a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine, in a repeat of events in Crimea last month.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin denied Western and Ukrainian claims that Moscow was behind the violence, telling U.N. diplomats that people in eastern Ukraine are worried about “radical nationalists.” He also accused Ukraine’s interim government of “waging a war against its own people.”

“Some people, including in this chamber, do not want to see the real reasons for what is happening in Ukraine and are constantly seeing the hand of Moscow in what is going on,” Churkin said. “Enough. That is enough.”

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