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Ukraine: Pro-Russian militants to be targeted in renewed security operation

By Laura Smith-Spark and Victoria Butenko

KIEV (CNN) -- Pro-Russian militants in four key cities will be targeted as authorities seek to regain control of Ukraine's restive east, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaliy Yarema said Wednesday.

"The active phase of the anti-terrorist operation continues," Yarema was quoted as saying by state-run news agency Ukrinform.

Militants in the four cities -- Kramatorsk, Slaviansk, Donetsk and Luhansk -- have seized government buildings and show no signs of giving them up despite an international deal agreed to last week in Geneva, Switzerland.

Under the deal, illegal militia groups were to disarm and vacate occupied buildings, with an amnesty promised in return.

But the pact, aimed at easing tensions in eastern Ukraine, appears to be faltering five days on, with Kiev and Moscow each accusing the other of failing to live up to its commitments.

On Tuesday, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov also called for a renewal of anti-terror measures across the country, after a truce called during the Easter holiday, citing the discovery of two tortured bodies near Slaviansk.

One of the victims was politician Vladimir Rybak, the President said. He was a member of the local parliament in Gorlovka and belonged to the President's political party.

"The terrorists who basically have taken the entire Donetsk region hostage have crossed the line with torturing and killing Ukrainian patriots," Turchynov said. Such crimes are committed with the support of Russian forces, he charged.

Ukraine's Interior Ministry said Wednesday that Rybak died as a result of injuries from torture and drowning.

Rybak's body was found on Saturday, two days after witnesses said he was kidnapped by men in military clothing and balaclavas, following an altercation with protesters at the local city hall, the ministry said.

According to investigators, representatives of a separatist group involved in seizing the Security Service office in Slaviansk were also involved in torturing him, the ministry said.

A statement from a pro-Russian leader in Slaviansk, de facto Mayor Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, rejected the President's claim and blamed the deaths on far-right Ukrainian nationalist extremists.

Lavrov: Americans 'running the show'

Ukrainian and U.S. officials say they think Russian special forces are in the region and are behind efforts to seize government buildings and generally promote unrest -- a claim Moscow denies.

On the contrary, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with Russia's state-run RT news channel Wednesday that the United States is calling the shots in Ukraine.

As proof of this, he pointed to the timing of the Ukrainian government's relaunch of its security operation, just after a two-day visit to Ukraine by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

"Now that Joe Biden visited Kiev, this counterterrorist operation was declared in the active phase again," he told RT.

"I don't have any reasons not to believe that the Americans are running the show in a very close way."

Lavrov added that U.S. involvement in Ukraine "is just one manifestation of the American unwillingness to yield in the geopolitical fight. Americans are not ready to admit that they cannot run the show in each and every part of the globe from Washington alone."

The crisis in Ukraine has stoked the worst East-West tensions since the end of the Cold War.

American journalist held

An American journalist working for Vice News is being held by pro-Russian separatists in Slaviansk, Vice News said in a statement posted on its website Tuesday.

The international channel said it is in contact with the U.S. State Department and other appropriate government authorities to secure the release of Simon Ostrovsky.

The State Department did not directly comment on the incident. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday there are many cases of journalists held, and she condemned the taking of hostages.

Ukraine to request IMF loan

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Wednesday that the Cabinet has approved a formal request to the International Monetary Fund for a loan, which would help stabilize the economic situation in Ukraine. Yatsenyuk said he hoped to receive the answer by the end of the month.

Ukraine's dire economic situation has added to the pressures on the interim government ahead of national elections due on May 25.

Speaking in Kiev on Tuesday, Biden said he expects an IMF package for Ukraine to be finalized imminently.

He also promised U.S. support for Ukraine and stressed that the United States won't recognize Russia's annexation of Crimea.

The United States also promised Tuesday an additional $50 million to support political and economic reform in Ukraine, including just over $11 million to help run the elections next month.

In another sign of international support for the government in Kiev, the Vatican said Pope Francis would meet Yatsenyuk on Saturday in Rome. The prime minister will meet afterward with the Vatican Secretary of State, Monsignor Pietro Parolin.

U.S. paratroopers to Poland

Russia's deployment of what NATO estimates to be 40,000 troops near its border with Ukraine has made other former Soviet nations nervous, besides the government in Kiev.

"As a result of what's going on in Ukraine," the United States is deploying Army paratroopers nearby, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said Tuesday.

Four companies of paratroopers based in Italy will be sent to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia over the next few months for military exercises, he said.

A company of U.S. paratroopers is expected to join Polish security forces Wednesday in Poland for the first stage of the training drills.

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