Violent Clashes at Ukraine Airport One Day after National Elections
As Kiev and Moscow voice hopes for national dialogue, events in the east show armed conflict still part of equation
A day after national elections in which billionaire Petro Poroshenko received a large enough portion of votes to become the next president of Ukraine, new violence broke out in the east of the country on Monday as armed fighters who still reject the legitimacy of Kiev's authority stormed the main airport in the eastern city of Donetsk which resulted in clashes with government soldiers.
Air strikes from military aircraft were reported in addition to artillery and small arms fire on the ground as trucks full of armed militants took over the airport terminals while fighter jets and helicopters buzzed over head.
According to Reuters:
Ukraine launched air strikes and a paratrooper assault against pro-Russian rebels who seized an airport on Monday, even as its newly elected leader vowed to reassert control in the east and refused to negotiate with "terrorists". [...]
Monday's rapid military response to separatists who seized the airport in Donetsk appeared to be a defiant answer to Moscow, which said it was ready for dialogue with Poroshenko but demanded he scale back the armed forces' campaign in the east.
Gunfire and explosions could be heard as a warplane flew over Sergei Prokofiev International Airport hours after truckloads of armed rebel fighters arrived and seized a terminal building. Thick black smoke rose from within the perimeter.
Spokesmen for the government's operation in the east said warplanes and a helicopter had carried out the air strikes and paratroopers had been flown in.
Responding to Sunday's election results, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow is now hoping that dialogue in Ukraine can take the place of violence, though Monday's events reveal the continued volatility in the eastern regions.
"We are ready for dialogue with representatives of Kiev, with Petro Poroshenko," Lavrov said at a briefing on Monday as he responded positively to comments by the man who is now charged with trying to re-unify the politically fractured nation.
Ahead of the vote, Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated that Moscow would support the results of the vote. Lavrov said that the election results offer new opportunity for dialogue and urged militants in the east to make room for new talks.
"We shouldn't miss the chance that we have now to establish an equal dialogue of mutual respect considering the vote that has taken place, the results of which Russia is ready to respect," Lavrov said.
According to The Guardian, "Pro-Russia forces who have occupied government buildings in eastern Ukraine since April followed Moscow's lead in welcoming Poroshenko's election. Denis Pushilin, supreme council chairman of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, said they were ready to negotiate with Ukraine's new leadership, but only with the participation of intermediaries including Russia."
Though Poroshenko called for "mediated talks" with possibly US or EU representatives, Russia's Lavrov said that outside help from the west was not necessary.
"We don't need any mediators," he said, with reported pointedness.