Moscow denounces gun attack on pro-Russian activists in Eastern Ukraine
According to eyewitness reports, some seven or eight masked people drove a mini-van to a Saturday rally in central Kharkov, which was demanding a regional referendum on whether it should follow Crimea’s suit and seek joining Russia.
The men armed with bats and handguns ambushed three activists, who were returning from the rally.
“They threatened to kill us. I covered my head so they hit me on the hands. We barely realized what was happening,” one of the victims told Live News tabloid.
The attackers fired several shots in the scuffle, wounding one of the pro-Russian activists in the back. The injury was not life-threatening.
The aggression is one of several incidents, which, according to the Russian foreign ministry, are overlooked in the west. It also cited the detainment and deportation of seven Russian journalists from Ukraine over alleged biased reporting.
There is also the blockade of border travel for Russians living near it, which was recently reported by the Ukrainian border guard service. The service said it banned some 3,500, including 16 journalists, from entering the country, which amounts to about 500 people each day.
“The shamefaced silence of our western partners, rights groups and foreign media is baffling,” the ministry statement said.
Russia considers the government in Kiev, which was imposed following an armed coup last month, illegitimate and heavily influenced by radical forces, which played a key part in the coup.
Several regions in Eastern Ukraine share the view, while the Autonomous Republic of Crimea is to hold a referendum this Sunday over whether it should seek greater independence from the capital, or apply to join Russia.
The Crimean authorities have denounced the self-proclaimed government in Kiev and declared that all Ukrainian law enforcement and military deployed in the peninsula must take orders from them. The Crimea authorities have asked Russia to provide assistance to ensure peace and order in the region.
Crimeans began protesting after the new Kiev authorities introduced a law abolishing the use of other languages for official purposes in Ukraine. More than half the Crimean population is Russian and uses only this language for their communication.
Under the Russian-Ukrainian Partition Treaty determining the fate of the military bases and vessels in Crimea – signed in 1997 and prolonged in 2010 - Russia is allowed to have up to 25,000 troops, 24 artillery systems (with a caliber smaller than 100 mm), 132 armored vehicles, and 22 military planes, on the peninsula’s territory. The Russian Black Sea fleet is allowed to stay in Crimea until 2042. Moscow annually writes off $97.75 million of Kiev’s debt for the right to use Ukrainian waters and radio frequencies, and to compensate for the Black Sea Fleet’s environmental impact.