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Russia Holds Anti-Maidan Rally

  • RFE/RL

Thousands of people have rallied in central Moscow to mark the first anniversary of what they view as a "coup" in neighboring Ukraine.

The pro-Kremlin march, held on February 21 under the slogan "A Year Since Maidan. We won't forget! We won't forgive!," lasted about 1 1/2 hour.

Maidan refers to Kyiv’s pro-EU protests in February 2014 that led to the ouster of Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych, who has since fled to Russia.

Moscow’s "Anti-Maidan" demonstration was promoted in Russia's state media, with Rossiya 24 television channel saying in its broadcasts: "Come, if you like your country!"

“Putinism forever," said a hand-made banner held by an elderly woman, while some participants in military fatigues had a placard reading "Maidan is an illness -- we're going to cure it!"

A group wearing matching green jackets with the face of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov was carrying a banner that reads: "We don't need Western ideology and gay-parades!"

Students from a Moscow university said they were told by their dean to attend.

About 30 people participated in a counterdemonstration in central Moscow.

Speaking to Russian state television, Yanukovych said that "no regime is worth the losses Ukraine has suffered” following his ouster.

He also listed tasks facing the Kyiv government.

"Stop a war, stop insulting residents of the country's southeast, stop labelling people," he said, "give guarantees that self-rule will be sufficient for these regions to protect their rights."

"European countries and Russia must take part in this process," he added.

The anti-Yanukovych revolt was triggered by a sudden U-turn that ditched a wide-ranging Association Agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.

Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in March 2014 and fighting between government forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 5,400 people in the country's east since April.

The rally comes a day after hundreds of people marched in Kyiv to honor the memory of the protesters killed during the last year’s pro-EU protests.

Clashes between antigovernment protesters and security forces killed more than 100 people, including 17 security officers, between February 18 and 21, 2014.

Moscow Rally: Live Blog

Another nine participants in Kyiv's Maidan protests died in the weeks that preceded the clashes.

Speaking at a commemorative gathering in Kyiv on February 20, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko accused a top Russian presidential aide, Vladislav Surkov, of directing "foreign sniper groups" believed to have targeted Maidan demonstrators.

He cited information he had received from Ukraine's security services.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called the claim "nonsense."

Shaky Cease-Fire

Poroshenko was speaking just two days after the Ukrainian army retreated from the strategic town of Debaltseve following weeks of intense fighting against separatists.

The rebels took the transport hub despite a European-brokered cease-fire that went into force on February 15.

Yuriy Biryukov, an advisor to the Ukrainian president, said on Facebook that Ukraine lost 179 troops in the one-month battle.

Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said that a Ukrainian serviceman has been killed and 40 others wounded in eastern Ukraine over the past 24 hours.

He added that separatists were stepping up their presence around the coastal town of Mariupol.

Rebels said government forces violated the cease-fire agreements 15 times overnight.

Lysenko said on February 20 that more than 20 Russian tanks, 10 missile systems and busloads of troops had entered Ukraine in the previous 24 hours.

WATCH: The Path Of Blood: Remembering Ukraine's Maidan Massacre

There was no independent confirmation of the report.

Moscow denies it is arming pro-Russian separatists and sending soldiers into Ukraine.

In what could be an encouraging sign for the cease-fire agreement, rebels said an exchange of prisoners with the Ukrainian side would take place on February 21, Interfax and TASS news agency reported.

There was no immediate confirmation from Kyiv, but such a swap was agreed by both sides as part of the agreement signed in Minsk last week.

Amid rising tensions with the West over Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on February 20 that "no-one should have the illusion that they can gain military superiority over Russia, put any kind of pressure on it."

He added that Russia’s military would always have an "adequate response."

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in London for talks with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.

A senior U.S. official was quoted as saying the Ukrainian conflict was expected to dominate the meeting.

He said Kerry and Hammond would discuss possible penalties that could be imposed against Russia if violence in eastern Ukraine continues.

The United States warned Russia on February 20 that its continued support of the rebels was a direct threat to the "modern global order" and could bring additional costs.

U.S. President Barack Obama's administration has said it is considering deepening sanctions against Moscow and is weighing the possibility of arming Ukraine's military to defend itself.

Based on reporting by themoscowtimes.com and the BBC
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