The EU condemned the recent escalation of violence near Mariupol on Monday (17 August), a Ukrainian city located on the Azov Sea, between the Russian border and the Crimea peninsula, illegally annexed by Moscow in March 2014.
Media correspondents said today’s fighting was between Ukrainian government forces in Mariupol and artillery positioned to the east of the city in territory under the control of pro-Russian separatists.
Reports say houses were destroyed in the government-controlled village of Sartana, about 20 kilometres east of Mariupol, and that an oil depot had also been damaged.
Regional police in Mariupol said that two civilians – a man and a woman – were killed by separatist shells that landed in Sartana.
Separatists said at least three people were killed by government shelling of Horlivka, a hot spot northeast of Donetsk.
There also were reports of heavy shelling by government forces into separatist-controlled Donetsk earlier on Monday.
In recent weeks, Western diplomats have warned Russia that Mariupol was a “red line” not to be crossed.
Asked by EurActiv to comment, Commission spokesperson Catherine Ray said the EU condemned the recent escalation of fighting.
“It is of the utmost importance that the sides fully observe the ceasefire and take all appropriate measures to protect civilians in full respect of international humanitarian law,” Ray said, implying that the Ukrainian authorities bore their share of responsibility for the situation.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow today that recent developments in eastern Ukraine suggest Kyiv may be preparing to renew large-scale fighting.
Germany calls the situation ‘explosive’
Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned on 16 August that the situation in eastern Ukraine is “explosive,” saying urgent talks are needed to prevent “a new military escalation spiral”.
Steinmeier made the comments in an interview published in Bild am Sonntag.
He said he has proposed that representatives of Kyiv and the Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine meet immediately with representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for talks on reducing tension.
In the meantime, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko criticised Russian leader Vladimir Putin for visiting Russia-annexed Crimea on Monday, saying his action was part of a plan to whip up tensions in eastern Ukraine.
“This is a challenge to the civilised world and a continuation of the plan to escalate the situation which is being carried out by Russian troops and their mercenaries in the Donbass (east Ukraine),” Poroshenko said in a Facebook post.
Putin visited Yalta in Crimea today to promote tourism on the peninsula, according to the Kremlin’s website. Referring directly to that, Poroshenko said Crimea had a future only as part of Ukraine and that included its “tourist” future.