Ukrainian protesters attack Russian embassy after rebels down military plane

Ukrainian protesters attack Russian embassy after rebels down military plane

LUGANSK - Agence France-Presse
Ukrainian protesters attack Russian embassy after rebels down military plane

A protester smashes a car during a rally near the Russian embassy in Kiev June 15. REUTERS Photo

An irate mob smashed the Russian embassy's windows in Kiev and threw a Molotov cocktail against its walls June 14 in the wake of the downing by pro-Kremlin rebels of a military plane that killed 49 troops.

The violence came as top Russian and Ukrainian officials met for gas talks in Kiev but failed to make immediate progress, agreeing instead to resume negotiations Sunday in a bid to avert an imminent cut in Russian supplies that would also affect large swathes of Europe.

The United States accused Russia of helping the insurgency by sending tanks and rocket launchers to the pro-Moscow rebels - a charge the Kremlin denied.

A commander in the rebel-held eastern city of Lugansk, where the plane was shot down, showed pieces of the Il-76 transporter's charred debris in a wheat field a dozen kilometres (around eight miles) outside the airport.

The man known to his unit as Mudzhakhed (Sacred Fighter) said the plane tried to dump fuel after the rebels hit its engines. The heavy transporter crashed on its second landing approach after being hit by heavy machine gun fire.

He listed the mostly Russian-speaking region's grievances against the new more nationalist leaders in Kiev.

"They brought machine guns and ammunition," Mudzhakhed said. "We do not like people telling us what to do." Ukraine's Western-backed President Petro Poroshenko vowed to deal the rebels "an adequate response" after the attack and signalled an imminent intensification of an offensive being waged against the insurgents. He proclaimed Sunday a national day of mourning.

 Poroshenko spoke moments before a crowd of several hundred smashed windows in the Russian embassy building and overturned several luxury cars belonging to its staff before pulling down its tricolour with the help of a wooden pole.

Later they threw a Molotov cocktail, which hit the wall of the building, but was quickly extinguished, according to an AFP reporter on the scene.

Russia condemned Kiev police inaction as "a grave violation of Ukraine's international obligations".

Washington also delivered Kiev a rare rebuke by urging "authorities to meet their Vienna Convention obligations to provide adequate security."

German Chancellor Angel Merkel and French President Francois Hollande expressed "extreme concern" over Ukraine's spiralling violence in a joint phone conversation with Russia's Vladimir Putin in which they said it was important to rapidly reach a ceasefire.

And British Foreign Secretary William Hague said "the international community stands ready to impose further sanctions if Russia continues to provoke instability in Ukraine."

Lugansk, an industrial hub of 400,000 inhabitants has been under effective rebel control since the eastern uprising began in early April.  Nearby border guard units have come under brazen attacks by fighters from strife-torn Russian regions such as Dagestan and Chechnya.

On Saturday, Ukraine's federal forces suffered still more casualties when three border guards were killed and four wounded after being ambushed in the eastern port of Mariupol - captured with great fanfare by federal forces the day before.

The Ukrainian forces have so far managed to hold on to Lugansk's airport and use it to rotate equipment and troops serving in the campaign.

But they have had to repel an increasingly frequent series of raids by gunmen. At the end of May, the military seized back the main international airport in the southeastern city of Donetsk, which had been briefly overrun by the rebels.

The eastern insurgency has now claimed at least 320 lives of civilians and fighters on both sides.

Poroshenko's troubles have been compounded by the threat of Ukraine being cut off from economically vital Russian gas shipments as early as Monday because of a bitter price dispute, which talks Saturday failed to resolve.

"No solution was found, and the negotiations will continue Sunday morning," Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuriy Prodan told journalists after about two hours of EU-brokered talks in the Ukrainian capital.

Ukraine receives half its gas supplies from Russia and transports 15 percent of the fuel consumed in Europe. Moscow had nearly doubled the price it charges Kiev in the wake of the February ouster of a Kremlin-backed president.

Ukraine said heading into Saturday's urgent round of talks in Kiev that it was ready to make a $1.95 billion (1.45 billion euro) payment demanded by Moscow by Monday morning if Russia agreed to cut its ongoing price to $326 from $485.50 for 1,000 cubic metres of gas.

But Russia had called a price of $385 per 1,000 cubic metres its final offer.

The United States on Friday accused Russia of secretly sending tanks and rocket launchers to the rebels in a bid to further destabilise its western neighbour. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf raised the prospect of further Western economic sanctions if Russia failed "to demonstrate its commitment to peace."

And NATO released photographs Saturday of what it said were suspected Russian tanks in the restive region that "do not bear markings or camouflage paint like those used by the Ukrainian military."

It said the images raised "significant questions concerning Russia's role in facilitating instability in eastern Ukraine."