Pro-Russian rebels defiantly kept their grip on nearly a dozen towns in eastern Ukraine on Friday, refusing to abide by an international deal to ease tensions unless the Western-backed government in Kiev steps down first.
The refusal to budge came only hours after an unexpected diplomatic breakthrough Thursday worked out between Kiev, Moscow, Washington and Brussels following talks in Geneva to defuse the deepest East-West crisis since the Cold War. If the hard-won agreement collapses — as Western and Ukrainian leaders fear it might — the United States has said it will quickly increase sanctions on Russia, which it holds responsible for supporting the separatists and stoking the crisis.
The surprise agreement hammered out in Geneva called for “all illegal armed groups” to disarm and leave seized state buildings and squares.
In return they would benefit from an amnesty for actions over the past two weeks that brought Ukraine to the brink of civil war.
But in the main eastern city of Donetsk, where rebel gunmen wearing ski-masks still occupied a barricaded government building, there was defiance, with the Russian national anthem blared out through speakers.
Denis Pushilin, a prominent member of the self-declared Donetsk Republic, said he agreed that the buildings should be vacated, but that the leaders in Kiev must also leave the buildings “that they are occupying illegally since their coup d’etat” in February.