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There's Violence on the Streets of Ukraine—and in Parliament

A news roundup for April 8

AFP/Getty Images

On Monday, pro-Russian riots broke out in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkov, and Mykolaiv. In all four cities, protesters tried to occupy government buildings and were successful in all but Mykolaiv, where 15 people were injured last night. Many separatists were not locals—in Kharkov, they mistook the Opera House for City Hall. Ukraine responded by deploying “anti-terror” operations to quell the protests, and the Foreign Ministry said that Russia is planning a “second phase” of its Ukrainian occupation.

When Kharkov separatists (reportedly carrying machine guns) did find City Hall, they set a fire outside the building and threw Molotov cocktails into the interior.

Acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said he plans to dismiss 30 percent of Kharkov police for “sabotage.” Here's live video of what’s going on in Kharkov.

Separatists declared the creation of the Peoples’ Republics of Kharkov and Donetsk, respectively. Both said they planned to hold referendums on becoming oblasts of Russia. However, after “numerous complaints of citizens,” the People’s Republic of Donetsk has dissolved, but pro-Russian protesters continue to occupy at the office of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU).   

In Luhansk, separatists control SBU headquarters, including SBU’s armory of over 300 machine guns, the Kyiv Post reports. Read Radio Free Europe’s ominous dispatch from the city, where separatists are planning the establishment of the “Luhansk Parliamentary Republic.”

Ukrainian billionaire Rinat Akhmetov met with separatists in Donetsk Monday. In “an expletive-laden discussion,” Akhmetov said Russian should become an official language of Ukraine and that power should be decentralized from Kyiv.

Separatists are being funded by top aides of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, writes Jamie Dettmer in The Daily Beast. 

This morning a fist fight broke out on the floor of the Ukrainian parliament after Communist Party Leader Petro Symonenko said the government had divided Ukraine.

The Ukrainian parliament toughened penalties for separatism. Seventy people were arrested for separatist activities Monday. 

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Monday to propose four-party talks between the U.S., E.U., and Ukraine sometime in the next 10 days. Ukraine says it is ready to participate.

Lavrov denies that Russia has had any hand in destabilizing Ukraine. "One should not seek to put the blame on someone else,” he said today in a press conference in Angola. Lavrov added that Russia is willing to participate in four-party talks on the condition that a new Ukrainian constitution is drafted beforehand. He enumerated Russia’s list of demands in a Guardian op-ed on Monday.

Russian stocks fell for a second day today after taking a sharp dive Monday.

Russian propaganda tried to disseminate a story that American Blackwater mercenaries are among those generating unrest in Ukraine. “The Kremlin disinformation mill worked hard yesterday getting the ‘US mercenaries in Ukraine!’ story out on its own state-controlled networks,” The Interpreter reports.

Ukraine will ask the IAEA for help protecting a nuclear facility in Crimea. 

On April 18, all residents of Crimea will automatically become Russian citizens. Those wishing to retain Ukrainian citizenship have until then to file a formal statement declaring their allegiance to Ukraine, and will be barred from taking government jobs. “We will lose all of our civil rights, and be considered foreigners in our own land,” Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev said of the April 18 deadline. “We expect a serious blow.”

Only one in six Americans knows where Ukraine is. According to the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog, the less Americans know about Ukraine’s location, the more they want the U.S. to intervene.

The Belarusian Security Council met today in Minsk. Two items were discussed: 1) the country’s readiness for the World Ice Hockey Championship. 2) The situation in Ukraine. “Lukashenko will be bracing himself for defending Belarus from potential Russian aggression. At the same time, he is not about to reject Moscow’s financial assistance,” writes Carnegie Moscow’s Lilia Shevtsova.

The media situation in Ukraine is worsening. “Once again journalists have become one of the primary targets of violence in Ukraine,” OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović said today. On Sunday, the body of a Ukrainian nationalist activist and reporter Vasyl Sergiyenko was found bearing marks of torture, Radio Free Europe reports

Ukraine has reinforced its border with Transnistria, the breakaway state on the border of Moldova that may be the next hot-spot of the conflict with Russia. Many people living in Ukrainian towns on the Transnistrian border have pro-Russian views. “They even removed the Ukrainian flag from our school over three weeks ago,” one resident told the Kyiv Post.

What's going to happen next? FIPRA Ukraine offers four possible scenarios: 

1. Russian troop presence is muscle-flexing to persuade Ukraine and other powers to accept Crimea becoming a part of Russia. In this scenario, troops would be withdrawn should the international community more or less accept the new situation. 

2. Russian forces are in place to encourage and support civil unrest throughout southeast Ukraine, which would then be used as a pretext for securing a land corridor to Crimea through Donetsk.

3. In the third scenario, unrest and separatist pressures in Ukraine present Russia with an opportunity to split the country into two sections south and east of the Dnieper River. Presidential elections scheduled for 25 May could spark this sort of civil tension.

4. In the fourth scenario, Russian troops would create a western corridor from Transnistria in Moldova into Crimea through Odessa and Mykolaiv Oblasts. This would likely only make sense in a total campaign to divide the country into a south and southeast annexed or controlled by Russia.