Pro-Russian protesters respond to a Ukraine peace deal: 'We're not leaving'

Less than 24 hours after it was signed by officials from Russia, Ukraine, the US, and the EU, the ambitious roadmap to defuse Ukrainian tensions was showing cracks.

By , Staff writer

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    A masked pro-Russia activist guards the regional administration building in Donetsk on April 18. Pro-Russia insurgents in Ukraine’s east, who have been occupying government buildings in more than 10 cities, said Friday they will only leave them if the interim government in Kiev resigns.
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Just one day after negotiators reached a deal in Geneva to ease the Ukrainian crisis – a surprising accomplishment given the challenges and low expectations for the meeting – doubts were mounting about whether the pact could ever become the long-term solution they sought.

Skepticism about how strictly Kiev and Moscow will adhere to the agreement were quickly voiced by all sides of the crisis, from the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine to US President Barack Obama.

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Pro-Russia separatists in Donetsk told the BBC that their group planned to stay put in the government building they’ve been occupying. That defies a key clause of the Geneva deal: that all demonstrators – both in eastern Ukraine and in Kiev – lay down arms, and that the seized buildings be vacated. 

Explaining their rationale, protesters in Donetsk said that the interim government in Kiev is “illegal” and pledged not to back down until its members evacuate the parliament and presidential offices.

Protesters also expressed anger at Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for forging a deal with the West, the CNN reports. “Lavrov did not sign anything for us, he signed on behalf of the Russian Federation," Denis Pushilin, head of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, told reporters in the city.

And in nearby Luhansk, one militia member told Reuters that the Geneva deal had no bearing on his group's aims. "Everything on the ground is the same as it was yesterday and the day before and the day before that,” he said. “We're not leaving."

The key elements of the Geneva pact include the end of violence, the disbanding of illegal armed groups, monitoring by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and constitutional reforms for Ukraine, including outreach to all of Ukraine’s constituencies, the Christian Science Monitor reported.

But The Wall Street Journal pointed out that the deal "left many issues unanswered, chief among them who will disarm the militants who have occupied government buildings and commandeered military vehicles from Ukrainian soldiers with apparent ease.”

The pact also made no formal provisions for the withdrawal of Russian troops amassed along the Ukrainian border, even though US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that Moscow indicated an intent to do this. “Assuming this can de-escalate, and it does de-escalate ... they [Russia] are absolutely prepared to begin to respond with respect to troops in larger numbers,” he said according to the White House transcript of his Geneva remarks. 

President Obama, speaking after the deal was announced, said such steps were only a possibility. There was the "prospect that diplomacy may de-escalate the situation," Obama told reporters. “My hope is that we actually do see follow-through over the next several days, but I don't think – given past performance – that we can count on that."

As the deal was being inked in Geneva, Russian President Vladimir Putin reminded Russians of his parliamentary permission to use force in Ukraine during his annual public press conference. But he expressed "hope" that he wouldn't have to exercise this right.

Whether the deal has any impact on the crisis should be known by the end of the weekend. Kerry warned that if there is no pullback by pro-Russian groups, Moscow will face the costs – likely tougher sanctions.  

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