Ukraine truce accord reached

Signs of turmoil in government lead up to talks between president and his foes

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KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yanukovych met with opposition political leaders Wednesday evening and announced that they had reached an agreement on a truce to end the fighting that broke out Tuesday and has left at least 26 dead.

The two sides also said they had agreed to resume negotiations toward a settlement. They met after a day that brought signs of turmoil within Mr. Yanukovych's government, including the unexplained dismissal of the chief military commander.

The development came as U.S. and European leaders condemned the violence, and the United States said it was imposing visa sanctions on 20 Ukrainian officials. Russia, meanwhile, condemned the opposition.

The pressure on Ukraine -- internal and external -- has only increased, and the two sides are so far apart that reconciliation appears impossible. They are now faced with the challenge of getting the country back on track, even without reconciling politically.

The hostility between Mr. Yanukovych and the political opposition is deep and intense, and now has been paid for in blood. Regional differences are flaring, with governors in the east near the Russian border denouncing the protesters and demanding a crackdown, while in the west, cities are declaring virtual autonomy from the central government. Opposition leaders, for their part, are leading a movement that includes hard-line militants who are not keen on political compromise.

Abroad, the Western nations and Russia blamed each other for supporting one of the two sides in Ukraine's long-running political crisis. The country, which has experienced regular bouts of political turmoil since the downfall of the Soviet Union two decades ago -- but never the sort of violence seen Tuesday -- appears to be at a point of fracture. That may now be extending to the government itself.

As fires continued to burn Wednesday in Kiev on the Maidan, or Independence Square, forming a buffer of flame and thick greasy smoke between protesters and police, the state security service announced that it was launching an "antiterrorist operation." A little while later, the Defense Ministry said it might join in. It appeared as though a serious escalation was in the works.

But then, Mr. Yanukovych fired his chief military commander Wednesday evening. Col. Gen. Volodymyr Zamana was quoted a month ago as saying the armed forces should never be used against Ukrainian civilians, and this may have been the reason for his ouster.

The Ukrainian army is not as well-funded or powerful a force as the Interior Ministry. Nonetheless, it wields heavy weaponry that the opposition fears may come into play.

U.S. military leaders have been unable to reach their Ukrainian counterparts for the past several days to warn them against getting involved in the crisis, a senior U.S. official said Wednesday night, and this is a matter of some concern.

Ukraine's military has joined with NATO in Iraq and Afghanistan and has particularly close relations with the Polish military. But Poland has been Mr. Yanukovych's most vocal critic, and that may leave him uncertain of his own army's loyalty in a fight portrayed as East vs. West.

Later in the evening, the security service said that although it was making preparations for an antiterrorist operation, it had not put one into effect, the Interfax news agency reported. All this has left Ukrainians wondering whether a crackdown is coming, and if so, how effective it might be, given conflicting pressures on the beleaguered country.

Small but violent protests Wednesday left several people wounded, and one reported dead, in the Black Sea port of Odessa and in the western city of Khmelnytskyy. In the east -- in Donetsk, Mr. Yanukovych's hometown, and Kharkov -- governors talked tough about defeating protests.

But the western Ukraine city of Lviv effectively declared itself autonomous of the central government. In nearby Ivano-Frankivsk, the security forces' local commander vowed not to carry out or give any illegal orders.

The Russian Foreign Ministry, which backs Mr. Yanukovych, said Tuesday's violence was an attempted coup by the opposition, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called upon Western nations to use their influence with the opposition to force it to negotiate with the government.

The White House and the European Union strongly criticized Mr. Yanukovych earlier Wednesday, blaming him for the violence.

President Barack Obama had warnings for both Mr. Yanukovych and protest leaders.

Authorities said 800 people have been hurt, and of 26 killed, 10 were Interior Ministry troops.


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