Putin Calls for Talks in Ukraine as Fighting Spreads
Published: September 1, 2014 (Issue # 1826)
KIEV, Ukraine — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday called on Ukraine to immediately start talks on a political solution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine.
Hours later, Ukraine said a border guard vessel operating in the Azov Sea was attacked by land-based forces. Pro-Russian rebels have recently opened a new offensive along the seacoast.
Putin's comment, made to national TV network Channel 1, said Ukraine should "hold substantive, meaningful talks, not about technical issues but about the question of the political organization of society and statehood in southeast Ukraine, with the goal of safeguarding the legitimate interests of those people who live there."
Despite the use of the word "statehood," Putin did not envision sovereignty for the two separatist eastern regions that style themselves as "Novorossiya" (New Russia ), his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said later, according to a Russian news report.
Putin's comments came a day after leaders of the European Union decided to put off any new sanctions against Russia for at least a week.
On Sunday, a spokesman for Ukraine's offensive against Russia-backed rebels said a border guard vessel has been fired on with artillery - apparently the first incident at sea in the fighting.
The spokesman, Oleksiy Dmitrashkovsky, said the attack occurred Sunday afternoon but he had no further information, including how many people were aboard the boat.
The attack took place amid heightened concern that the rebels are trying to seize a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in March.
Until this week, the area along the Azov Sea had escaped the fighting that has gripped areas farther north since April.
Meanwhile, two prominent U.S. senators said Sunday that the Obama administration should not only push for tougher sanctions on Russia, but should also send weapons to help Ukraine defend itself.
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