OTTAWA—An agreement to ease tensions along Ukraine’s eastern border is raising hopes that a diplomatic solution to the ongoing crisis can be found, even as clashes in the country’s eastern regions claimed lives.
But even as diplomats worked to avoid further violence in the country, Canada and NATO allies continued to prepare for the possibility of a deepening crisis in the region.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Thursday that Canada will send six CF-18 fighter jets to Poland as part of a NATO air-policing mission. Another 20 military staff will be sent to bolster Canada’s contingent at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
Harper said the move was a direct response to Russian expansionism in Ukraine.
“This is in response to the situation that is developing there and, frankly, more generally to the concern that we have on what really is expansionism and militarism on the part of Russia,” Harper said Thursday.
“I believe this to be a long-term, serious threat to global peace and security and we’re always prepared to work with our allies in NATO and elsewhere.”
Harper said in a statement that Canada remains steadfastly behind Ukraine and will not “stand idly by” while the country’s sovereignty is challenged court records.
Canada’s commitment — which was requested by NATO — came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced that four-way talks between the U.S., the European Union, Russia and the Ukraine had resulted in a tentative agreement on initial steps to de-escalate tensions.
The agreement calls on the two sides to halt violence, intimidation and provocative actions, according to reports. It also puts further Western economic sanctions against Russia on pause for the time being.
Under the Geneva statement, protesters would be given amnesty if they comply with the demands, including the immediate disarmament of all illegally armed groups, and the return of all seized buildings to their rightful owners. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will oversee the process.
Kerry called the deal “a good day’s work,” but said both sides need to translate the words into immediate action.
“None of us leaves here with a sense that the job is done because of words on a paper,” Kerry told reporters in Geneva.
Kerry added that if Moscow does not respect the commitment to de-escalate tensions, “we will have no choice but to impose further costs on Russia.”
The agreement comes after a night of bloodshed in the southeastern city of Mariupol, just 60 km from the Russian border, according to Ukrainian authorities. Ukrainian police killed three pro-Russian fighters and wounded 13 others Thursday in an overnight attack on a national guard base. Special forces were deployed, according to Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, and 63 people were detained and weapons seized.
Earlier this week, Ukraine sent troops into its eastern Donetsk region, where Kyiv said “armed extremists” operating under Russian direction had occupied government buildings. The masked militias operating in the region are reported to have sophisticated weaponry, stoking fears they’re backed by Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called those fears “nonsense” on Thursday, but acknowledged for the first time that the masked troops involved in the annexation of Crimea were Russian soldiers police reports public record.
In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama told reporters that it will take “several days” to know whether Russia and Ukraine will follow through on the Geneva agreement.
“The question now becomes will . . . (Russia) use the influence that they’ve exerted in a disrupted way to restore some order so that Ukrainians can carry out an election, move forward with the decentralization reforms that they’ve proposed, stabilize their economy, and start getting back on the path of growth and democracy,” Obama said.
“We’re not going to know whether or not there’s follow through on these statements for several days.”
Earlier Thursday, Obama spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and planned to speak with British Prime Minister David Cameron. The West will follow through with more economic sanctions, Obama said, unless they see progress on the ground in Ukraine.
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