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08/12/2016

East Ukraine fighting continues despite ceasefire

Europe's East

East Ukraine fighting continues despite ceasefire

Pro-Moscow protestors [Gwydion Williams/Flickr]

Fighting flared between Ukrainian and pro-Moscow separatist forces, both sides reported Sunday (22 June), further straining a unilateral ceasefire declared by Ukraine, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pressed Kyiv to talk to the rebels.

 At separate ceremonies marking the anniversary of Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, both stressed the need to bring peace to Ukraine’s rebellious east.

The seven-day ceasefire came under pressure almost as soon as it began on Friday night, with the government accusing the separatists of attacking its military bases and posts on the Russian border. The violence continued for a second night into Sunday.

“Unfortunately, what we are seeing … tells us that the fighting is still going on and last night we saw some active use of artillery from the Ukrainian side,” Putin said after laying flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow.

He said it was not clear whether artillery was used by the Ukrainian army or the “so-called paramilitary of the right-wing forces” supporting the government. He appeared to attach no blame to separatist forces.

Poroshenko wants Putin’s unqualified backing for a 15-point peace plan he announced on Friday, before meetings with the European Union in the coming week. These will include the signing on June 27 of an association agreement with the bloc which includes a free trade deal.

In his comments published on the Kremlin website, Putin repeated his support for the ceasefire and peace plan in only general terms.

“We need to ensure that all fighting is stopped,” he said. “Ultimately the political process is the most important. It is important that this ceasefire lead to dialogue between all opposing sides in order to find compromises acceptable for all.”

Poroshenko told US Vice President Joe Biden during a phone call on Sunday that Russian separatists continue to attack Ukrainian forces, including with artillery, despite the ceasefire, the White House said.

“The vice president reiterated that the United States was working closely with its G-7 partners to prepare further economic sanctions against Russia if Moscow did not take actions […] to stop the flow of arms and militants across the border and use its influence to publicly call on the separatists to lay down their arms,” the White House added.

The insurgency in the largely Russian-speaking east erupted in April after street protests in the capital Kyiv toppled the Moscow-backed leader Viktor Yanukovich. Russia subsequently annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and the West has accused Russia of supporting the insurgency.

French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Putin by telephone on Sunday to work for the resumption of talks to end the conflict, Hollande’s office said.

The two leaders “reiterated the importance of ensuring full control of the Russia-Ukraine border to prevent the infiltration of gunmen and military equipment”, the statement said.

In Kyiv, Poroshenko stressed the need for dialogue, saying his plan “was specifically put together to ensure peace, the laying down of weapons and to establish, through talks, a single united state”, news agency Interfax Ukraine quoted him as saying.

Ukraine’s state border service reported further rebel attacks on its posts in Luhansk region on Sunday, while a separatist spokesman said Ukrainian forces were firing mortars at a village near the Russian frontier.

In Donetsk region, which like Luhansk has declared itself a “people’s republic”, rebels reported a morning shootout with Ukrainian troops in Siversk, north of the city of Donetsk. 

Positions

In an address published on 21 June, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says the country’s armed forces completed “the largest military operation in the modern history of the country”. “The army took under fire control and established the defense regime on almost the whole line of the state border with Russia in Luhansk and Donetsk regions”, Poroshenko said.

The cease-fire period is limited to one week – until 27 June, Poroshenko further said, adding that these were “the decisive days that give a good chance for a peaceful settlement”.

Poroshenko further said:

“In the coming days, the Verkhovna Rada will be offered to adopt the law on amnesty to those members of illegal armed formations who didn’t kill civilians and Ukrainian soldiers, who will lay down their weapons in a short time. Everyone who illegally took weapons must do so.

“Hostages must be immediately liberated. I mean all hostages – from international observers to Ukrainian teachers, doctors, journalists and law enforcers.

“Corridor for the escape of Russian mercenaries to their motherland will be opened. But there is a condition to leave machine guns, tanks and armored vehicles here.

“10 km long buffer zone will be established on the Ukrainian-Russian border. It will become an additional protection from further entry of mercenaries and weapons to Ukraine.”

Poroshenko said that the issue of Ukraine’s territorial integrity was “out of discussion”, but that he proposed a “broad decentralization of power” [read more].

Speaking in the Eastonain capital Talinn on 21 June, Commission President José Manuel Barroso said the EU wanted Russia to engage in a dialogue with Ukraine to find a negotiated, peaceful and diplomatic way out of the crisis.

“But it must be done in full respect of international law and the sovereignty of Ukraine. The solution to the crisis has to be political and dialogue should be promoted”, Barroso said.

The Commission President said he welcomed the announcement by President Poroshenko of a ceasefire and a 15-point plan for the peaceful settlement of the crisis in eastern Ukraine.

“We commend President Poroshenko for his efforts and call on all sides to seize this long sought opportunity to reverse the trend of an ever-worsening security and humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine. All parties will need to abide by the conditions of the peace plan and actively promote its implementation. We in particular call on the Russian Federation to use all its influence to this end and to support this plan publicly and through concrete actions”, Barroso said.

Background

The crisis in Ukraine erupted after its former President Viktor Yanukovich cancelled plans to sign trade and political pacts with the EU in November 2013 and instead sought closer ties with Russia, triggering protests that turned bloody and drove him from power.

Moscow annexed Crimea in March following a referendum staged after Russian forces established control over the Black Sea peninsula in the biggest East-West crisis since the Cold War.

Pro-Russian militants control buildings in more than ten towns in eastern Ukraine after launching their uprising on 6 April. On 11 May pro-Moscow rebels declared a resounding victory in a referendum in Donetsk, which the West called illegal and illegitimate. 

Timeline

  • 23 June: EU foreign ministers meet in Luxembourg, new Ukrainian foreign minister to participate;
  • 27 June: EU leaders meet for Spring summit, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia sing EU association agreements.

Further Reading