Insurgents shot down an Mi-8 transport chopper with a shoulder-fired missile amid heavy fighting in Slavyansk, 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the Russian border, Speaker Oleksandr Turchynov told lawmakers in parliament in Kiev today.
Russia called for unspecified “emergency” measures to halt the violence in eastern Ukraine after separatists suffered the heaviest casualties of their campaign.
“There’s no excuse” for military action, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier by phone yesterday, according to the ministry’s website.
Ukraine stepped up air patrols over Donetsk yesterday as a convoy of pro-Russian rebels moved through the eastern city with an anti-aircraft gun in tow, regrouping after dozens were killed in a government operation to retake the main airport.
President-elect Petro Poroshenko has vowed to wipe out the insurgents and re-establish order after winning office May 25.
He’s faced with trying to stabilize an economy the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development expects to shrink 7 percent this year while reclaiming swaths of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions captured by pro-Russian militias.
An economic adviser to Putin, Sergei Glazyev, said the U.S. controls the new Ukrainian government and is seeking to start a “third world war.”
“This can’t be called anything but madness -- the bombing of cities, airports, escalation of unmotivated violence against their own people,” Glazyev told reporters today in the Kazakh capital Astana, where he’s traveling with the Russian president.
Russia has reduced the number of soldiers stationed on its border with Ukraine to about 20,000 from about 50,000, the press service of Ukraine’s border guards said yesterday.
The Russian troops are leaving behind military assets, suggesting they may return, the service said, without being more specific.
Even so, a “threatening, capable” Russian force remains “poised along the Ukrainian border,” Colonel Steve Warren, a spokesman for the Pentagon, told reporters yesterday.
The Foreign Ministry in Moscow said yesterday that Russia is being asked for humanitarian aid by people in eastern Ukraine affected by the conflict.
Russia wants Ukraine’s help delivering supplies across the border and expects “the fastest possible answer,” the ministry said on its website.
Ukraine said thanks, but no thanks.
“This is another element of propaganda,” Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said.
It may also be a “a hidden attempt to help Russian terrorists who are now in a difficult position,” the ministry said in an e-mailed statement today.
Putin, who has repeatedly denied aiding the insurgency, told Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in a phone call on May 27 that Ukraine’s military operations must stop.
“Russia’s goal was and is to keep Ukraine so unstable that we accept everything that the Russians want,” Poroshenko said in an interview with German newspaper Bild that was published yesterday.
“I have no doubt that Putin can end the fighting with his direct influence.”
As the violence continued, Ukraine stopped short of accepting an EU proposal to reach a debt and price deal for natural gas from Russia and avert a threatened shutoff.
Russia, the world’s largest supplier of the fuel, has twice cut gas flows to Ukraine since Putin came to power in 2000, leading to shortages throughout Europe.
Under the EU plan, Ukraine’s state energy company, NAK Naftogaz Ukrainy, would pay Russian gas exporter OAO Gazprom $2 billion by May 30 and a further $500 million by June 7.
That would partially cover Ukraine’s outstanding debt, which Gazprom Chief Executive Officer Alexey Miller said yesterday will reach $5.2 billion by June 7.
Ukraine’s government is “ready to clean the bill” and “pay the arrears,” Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said in Berlin yesterday.
The country is seeking a market-based price of $250-$350 per 1,000 cubic meters, he said.
Gazprom raised the price it charges Ukraine, which relies on the Russian exporter for half of its gas, by 81 percent to $486 per 1,000 cubic meters after Kremlin-backed President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country in February.
About 15 percent of Europe’s gas supply flows from Russia through Ukraine, which is counting on $17 billion from the International Monetary Fund to avoid bankruptcy.
Talks between EU, Russian and Ukrainian officials to break the deadlock will resume in Berlin tomorrow, Olga Golant, a spokeswoman for Russia’s Energy Ministry, said by phone.
The lack of progress is threatening to escalate into a full-blown crisis, “undermining the sustainability of Russian gas transit to the EU through Ukraine,” Alexander Kornilov, an energy analyst at Alfa Bank in Moscow, said in an e-mailed note.
“Ukraine’s position indicates that the light at the end of the tunnel in Russia-Ukraine-EU gas discussions is still very far away,” Kornilov said.
EU leaders meeting in Brussels on May 27 decided to put off further sanctions on Russia after Putin showed a willingness to work with Ukraine’s new leader and pulled back some troops.
“The possibility of de-escalation is here, finally,” French President Francois Hollande told reporters after the summit ended.
“But we still need this strict reminder.”
In their final statement, the leaders said the EU was working on “possible targeted measures” and agreed “to continue preparations” in case further steps are needed.
Since Putin annexed Ukraine’s southern Crimea region in March, the EU has blacklisted 83 Russian and Ukrainian officials and two companies.
President Barack Obama, who has imposed U.S. sanctions on people close to Putin, including Glazyev, the economic adviser, called Poroshenko May 27 to congratulate him on his victory and offer “the full support of the United States,” according to a White House statement.
The U.S. leader plans to meet with Poroshenko during his trip to Europe next week, Obama told NPR News in an interview scheduled to air today.
He told the radio network he expects to discuss Crimea with Poroshenko during their meeting.
Poroshenko said after his victory that government forces won’t quit until separatists are completely defeated.
“They won’t last two or three months,” the president-elect said.
“They’ll last a few hours.”