KIEV: Ukraine’s prime minister said he fears recent softer comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin are a prelude to provocation, as Kiev tightened security around celebrations on Friday to mark the Soviet victory in World War II.
“I am concerned about the statement of Vladimir Putin. It caused a bad feeling. They say one thing and do another. After this statement, I asked law enforcement officers to strengthen security measures on May 9,” Arseniy Yatsenyuk told Ukrainian television.
On Wednesday, the Kremlin strongman stunned the world with an abrupt u-turn on Ukraine, calling on pro-Russian separatists in the east to delay independence referendums planned for this weekend and welcoming a May 25 presidential election.
But the rebels holed up in more than a dozen towns and cities in eastern Ukraine defied his plea and vowed to press ahead with referendums this Sunday that are bound to stoke tensions.
In contrast to the display of patriotic fervor and military hardware on Red Square, Ukraine is planning muted “Victory Day” celebrations in a bid to avoid violence.
The head of Kiev’s city council has banned large-scale public gatherings or parade in the capital, fearing that the veterans could be attacked by Russian provocateurs.
Ukraine’s interim president Oleksandr Turchynov has told people in all parts of the country to be on full alert amid fears of pro-Russian provocation.
“Roadblocks have been set up around our capital, where serious checks are being carried out, because we expect that provocative actions may occur on May 9,” Turchynov told Ukrainian television on Monday.
“Not just in the capital. It is necessary to stay alert in all regions of our country. There may be saboteurs. There may be provocateurs. War is in effect being waged against us and we must be ready to repel this aggression,” he added.
Show of patriotism
Thousands of Russian troops marched through Red Square on Friday as Moscow put on a powerful show of patriotism and military might following its annexation of Crimea.
As Ukraine’s crisis rumbled on with pro-Moscow rebels pushing ahead with independence votes, President Vladimir Putin praised Russian patriotism and loyalty to the state.
“This is a holiday when all-conquering patriotic force triumphs, when we all feel especially strongly what it means to be true to the Motherland, and how important it is to be able to stand up for its interests,” Putin told massed troops to shouts of “Hurrah! Hurrah!”
Russia’s annual parade celebrating victory over the Nazis held special resonance this year amid the crisis in Ukraine, which has seen Russia annex Crimea and fighting in pro-Moscow areas in the east where separatists are threatening to break away.
Similar Victory Day celebrations were planned for later Friday in Sevastopol, with Russian media reporting that Putin could make a triumphant appearance at the Crimean port.
As dozens of helicopters and planes soared in the bright blue sky over Moscow, thousands of troops marched alongside tanks, mobile missile systems and armored vehicles to the sound of a brass band.