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How far will the Ukrainian government go to reclaim control of the east?

Fighting in Ukraine escalates between the military and pro-Russian forces as Kyiv begins anti-‘terrorist’ operations

Ray’s thoughts on today’s ‘Inside Story’

As occupations and stormings of government buildings in eastern Ukraine spread, the Kyiv government first threatened retaliation, then publicly acknowledged it had lost before the fighting even began. When the Ukrainian government started fighting back, Russia darkly warned Ukraine about trying to reoccupy its own government buildings on its own soil. The tempo of fighting is increasing, and people continue to die. That's today's “Inside Story.”

Pro-Russian forces brought down two Ukrainian military helicopters in the eastern city of Slovyansk on Friday. Two crew members were killed along with a pro-Russian militiaman when a surface-to-air missile was used to bring down one of the choppers.

It was the first sign of the government in Kyiv using a counteroffensive in an attempt to reclaim eastern Ukraine. As operations are ongoing, casualties continue to mount as the fight against the pro-Russians unfolds.

Ukraine's acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said this is just the beginning of the fight against forces trying to take the eastern portion of his country.

All fortifications, a firing position and checkpoints of terrorists have been seized; thus the city of Slovyansk has been completely encircled. The offensive on terrorists will continue. The criminals suffered heavy losses during the operation, as many died, were wounded and arrested.

Oleksandr Turchynov

Acting Ukrainian president

In the southern city of Odessa, clashes erupted between pro-Russian forces and those supporting Kyiv in which gasoline bombs and rocks were reportedly exchanged.

As violence escalates throughout Ukraine, the East and West were swift to react. Russian President Vladimir Putin called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council, where Russia is a permanent member. Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said it was Ukraine that has destroyed the Geneva agreement that was meant to calm tensions, saying, "If the criminal misadventures of the Kyiv clique are not swiftly stopped, then the catastrophic context of the Ukraine cannot be avoided."

President Barack Obama hosts German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House. During a Rose Garden press conference, the two heads of state discussed the escalating situation in Ukraine.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In Washington, President Barack Obama hosted German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House. A topic of discussion was finding a way to turn up the heat on Putin, and at the same time not to jeopardize Germany's economic ties with Russia. Trade between the two countries amounted to $100 billion in 2013.

"And one word on sanctions," said Chancellor Merkel during a Rose Garden press conference. "I agree with the American president that they are not an end in itself, but combined with the offer that we want diplomatic solutions, it is a very necessary second component to show that we're serious -- we're serious about our principles. "

Obama touched on other elements of the Ukrainian crisis, including the kidnapping of international observers by pro-Russian forces and the $17 billion loan package to Ukraine approved by the International Monetary Fund.

The president reiterated that Ukraine's actions in the east are justified and the militants "disgraceful." He said, "It is obvious to the world that these Russian-backed groups are not peaceful protesters. They are heavily armed militants who are receiving significant support from Russia. The Ukrainian government has the right and responsibility to uphold law and order within its territory, and Russia needs to use its influence over these paramilitary groups so they disarm and stop provoking violence."

We consulted a specialist in Russian diplomacy to get the Inside Story.

You just returned from Moscow. What is the Kremlin thinking?

What they are thinking is how they can have any influence in the region. The only things they are left with now are their language and a big army.

The situation in Moscow is playing differently than the way we see it here. There is an inward-looking attitude that is thinking that they can go it alone. They are trying to set up institutions so they live on their own, particularly independent from the U.S. In this move to autarky, they are trying to rearrange their economy around oil and natural gas.

Of course, this cannot work because there is only so much you can do with one resource. But they are trying. They are trying things like having people pay them in rubles. And due to wall-to-wall media coverage of eastern Ukraine, the events there are perceived by the public as an affront to Russia itself.

The good news about Western sanctions is that they might limit Russia’s foreign intervention, but the bad news is that it will isolate them further, reinforcing their sense of isolation. It is a two-way street: We do it to them and they do it to themselves.

If you further isolate Russia, they will be free to act unilaterally in all sorts of ways. There will be less of a disciplining effect of the international order.

What would break the impasse?

There are many things that can be done in Russia. What can be done here is for the U.S. and EU to behave more courteously, very often in the way rhetoric is used and presented, more so than actual policies. There appears to be a desire by the U.S. not just to win but to humiliate — and that does not help us.

There is lots of room for cooperation with Russia. For example, their help with Syria really benefited us. Yet the attitude of the U.S. has been that it does not need Russia.

But hasn’t the U.S. behaved relatively responsibly, encouraging talks and restraint from Ukraine?

There seem to be two U.S. policies. One seems to be from the State Department and one by the White House. The White House is proceeding cautiously to bring more countries into the international capitalist order. The State Department has been more willing to intervene directly in countries’ affairs.

Russia believes Ukraine is in its own backyard. Ukraine was orienting itself more toward the West naturally over time. When the Euro-Maidan protests came up, there was an attempt to force a choice that was not constructive. American and European diplomats offered food both literally and figuratively to protesters. That was unnecessary. When they finally overthrew the government, it was then regarded by Russia as a Western victory and Russian defeat. Ukraine could have done the same things without the humiliation of Russia.

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