Assassination Attempt on East Ukraine Mayor
Insurrection spreads in the eastern cities as White House announces new round of sanctions against Russia
Conditions on the ground in eastern Ukraine remain volatile and unpredictable as Monday brought the attempted assassination of one city's mayor while another city experienced a local insurrection resulting in the takeover of government buildings.
Also on Monday, the White House announced a new round of sanctions against Russia, blaming President Putin for the continued unrest. The sanctions include restrictions on high-level and wealthy Russian citizens as well as export controls on technology. President Obama said the U.S. is keeping even stronger measures "in reserve" for the moment.
In eastern Ukraine's second-largest city of Kharkiv early Monday, Mayor Hennady Kerne is said to be "fighting for his life" after being shot in the back by unknown assailants early in the morning. Kernes has deep ties to Moscow and has been critical of those in Kiev who participated in the overthrow of the ousted Viktor Yanukovych earlier this year.
However, as the Guardian's Luke Harding reports, it's possible Kernes had enemies on both sides of the debate over the future of his city:
It was unclear who was behind the apparent assassination attempt. Kernes was a leading figure in the Party of Regions of Ukraine's ex-president Viktor Yanukovych. The mayor had bitterly attacked the Maidan demonstrations which saw Yanukovych flee to Russia in February. A flamboyant figure, with alleged ties to organised crime in the 1990s, he had backed closer ties with Moscow.
Since the change in government in Kiev, however, Kernes's statements had become distinctly more patriotic. He has stated that Kharkiv, an eastern university city near the Russian border, should remain part of Ukraine. A billionaire, he has also claimed that he was himself a victim of Yanukovych's corrupt system.
Posting on Facebook, a senior Kharkiv journalist Zurab Alasania blamed Russia for Monday's shooting. He noted that the mayor had not changed his routine of going for a morning dip in a Kharkiv lake, despite the deteriorating security situation in the east.
“The Russian Federation is identifying and liquidating key centres of resistance,” Alasania posted on Facebook.
In Kostyantynivka, another eastern city located approximately 100 miles from the Russian border, armed men with a pro-Russian message stormed local government offices. According to the Associated Press:
After the seizure, about 15 armed men guarded the building. Some posed for pictures with residents while others distributed St. George's ribbons, the symbol of the pro-Russia movement.
Kostyantynivka is just 35 kilometers (22 miles) south of Slovyansk, a major city in eastern Ukraine that has been in insurgents' hands for more than three weeks now.
In Donetsk, one of the other key cities in the region refusing to bow to Kiev rule, armed invididuals took over a television station on Sunday and "ordered it to start broadcasting Russian state TV."
In the city of Slovyansk, one of eight international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (or OSCE) taken by militia members was released on Sunday, but the other seven continue to be held under suspicion of being NATO spies.
Before the weekend, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that those occupying government buildings in the east would lay down their arms if those maintaining similar encampments in Kiev and other western cities would do the same.