A day after at least 42 people were killed in the Ukrainian city of Odessa and while Kiev is pressing on with its military campaign to reclaim territory in the eastern end of the country, the Kremlin said it is still debating how to respond to pleas of help from Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine. “People are calling in despair, asking for help. The overwhelming majority demand Russian help,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov told reporters Saturday, according to the Washington Post. “All these calls are reported to Vladimir Putin.” The warning comes after weeks in which Moscow officials have repeatedly said that the country could intervene in eastern Ukraine if they believe Russian speakers are under threat.
The Kremlin spokesman said Moscow has lost influence over pro-Russian militants. But there was a clear sign the Kremlin could still hold some negotiating power after seven international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were released on Saturday after being held hostage by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern city of Slovyansk for more than a week. Yet that release has not put a dent on Kiev’s largest military operation to date as part of its effort to reclaim eastern cities that have been taken over by Russian separatists. Reuters points out that the storming of a building in the eastern city of Donetsk Saturday by hundreds of pro-Russian protesters “reflected growing disorder in the area, targeting as it did a security building that had already been brought under rebel control.”
The violence in the south-western city of Odessa on Friday “was a measure of how far events have spiraled out of the authorities’ control,” notes the New York Times. Although it is unclear who set the deadly fire to the trade union building that killed dozens of pro-Russian protesters, the Times notes that a pro-Ukraine newspaper claims Ukrainian activists made no effort to help those who were being killed inside: “As the building burned, the Ukrainian activists continued to scream mottos about Putin and sing the Ukrainian national anthem.”