Ukrainian Defense Minister Pavlo Lebedev promised Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Friday that the country’s military won’t be used against protesters — a key concern for U.S. officials as tensions escalated over the past week.
The phone call came after U.S. State and Defense department officials said earlier this week that they had been unable to reach senior security-force leaders, including Lebedev. Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said Thursday that Hagel had been trying to contact Lebedev directly.
A senior State Department official said Wednesday that they were “particularly concerned “¦ by the changing of the guard” at the military barracks.
But Lebedev said the deployment of the country’s armed forces “has been focused on protecting defense facilities and equipment, and that his forces would not use arms against the Ukrainian people,” according to a readout from Kirby.
The conversation follows an announcement from Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych that a peace agreement has been reached with opposition forces. The peace deal includes a restoration of the 2004 constitution, which the parliament has already enacted; the formation of a national unity government; and constitutional reforms, including a new constitution, to be completed by September, the State Department official said.
Though the deal marks a sharp turn from the violence this week that left approximately 77 people dead, the official added that it “is a very, very fragile agreement despite the process.” The two sides had called for a truce on Wednesday, but that was quickly disrupted by another wave of fighting.
President Obama also spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday. According to the official, a bulk of the call was on the Ukraine and was “constructive,” with both sides agreeing that the deal needs to be implemented quickly and pledging to stay engaged.
White House spokesman Jay Carney praised the deal, saying, “We support the efforts of all those who negotiated this agreement, commend the courageous opposition leaders who recognized the need for compromise, and offer the support of the United States in its implementation.”
But Carney warned that the United States remains “prepared to impose additional sanctions as necessary.”
A bipartisan group of senators called earlier this week for sanctions against Ukranian officials tied to the recent crackdown, and Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Corker said Friday that the United States “should have sanctions ready in case there is renewed violence or Yanukovych’s government fails to proceed in good faith.”
The Obama administration on Wednesday blocked approximately 20 Ukrainian officials, who it says are tied to the government’s recent crackdown, from obtaining a visa to travel to the United States.
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In town to receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center, Bill Murray casually strolled into the White House Briefing Room this afternoon. A spokesman said he was at the executive mansion for a chat with President Obama, his fellow Chicagoan.
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