Ukrainian lawmakers suspend military cooperation with Russia
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s parliament on Thursday voted to suspend military cooperation with Russia in a long-anticipated move signaling a further break in relations between the once-close partners.
Kiev also produced what it claimed was fresh confirmation of involvement by Russian intelligence in sowing unrest in breakaway eastern regions, saying it is evidence of continued Russian plans to destabilize Ukraine.
The five cooperation agreements scrapped by the Verkhovna Rada include one giving the Russian military transit rights to reach Moldova, whose territory is partly controlled by a Moscow-supported separatist government.
Relations between Russia and Ukraine plummeted after the overthrow in February 2014 of Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Russia subsequently annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Kiev also accuses Moscow of arming and staffing separatist insurgencies in eastern Ukraine.
Russia staunchly denies it is involved with the armed separatist insurgency in Ukraine.
In turning away from Russia, Ukraine has increasingly reached out for assistance to NATO, an organization the current government hopes the country will eventually join.
Russia has about 1,500 troops stationed in Trans-Dniester, a landlocked separatist strip of Moldova that borders Ukraine. Rescinding the transit rights for those troops creates a logistical problem for Russia and no solution was immediately apparent.
“As it now stands, we have to think about it, find a way. We shouldn’t toss away Trans-Dniester and Moldova,” said Vladimir Komoedov, chairman of the defense committee of the lower house of the Russian parliament, according to the Interfax news agency.
But he said Russia wouldn’t consider retaliatory measures for the time being.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the decision by Ukraine’s parliament isn’t expected to affect the implementation of the Minsk cease-fire agreement for eastern Ukraine.
Also Thursday, Ukraine unveiled what it said was new evidence showing that Russian foreign intelligence services have played a decisive role in provoking unrest in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.
Two Russian citizens captured there over the past week were active officers with Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate, Ukrainian Security Service counterintelligence chief Vitaliy Naida said at a press conference.
The service published the names and pictures of 12 other people it said served in the same unit as the captured men.
Naida said the unit ran sabotage operations, planned ambushes for Ukrainian troops, set mines and laid bombs targeting the civilian population.
Russia has confirmed the two paraded on television by Ukrainian authorities are Russian citizens and that they were formerly in the military, but says they are no longer in active service and went to Ukraine as volunteers.
In video statements posted by the Ukrainian Security Service, the men say they were taking part in a reconnaissance operation in the Luhansk region Saturday when they were fired on, wounded and captured. Both say they were members of an army brigade based in the Russian city of Togliatti and had been deployed in Ukraine for more than a month.