Russian President Vladimir Putin said his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko had disregarded his advice, and that German and French leaders, to abide by a ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine. Putin said Poroshenko would now have to bear full responsibility for veering off the road to peace.
Ukrainian forces struck at pro-Russian separatist bases with air and artillery strikes yesterday (1 July) after Poroshenko announced he would not renew a ceasefire, but go on the offensive to rid Ukraine of “parasites”.
His decision quickly drew fire from Putin. Repeating a threat he made in March when Russia annexed Crimea, he said that Moscow would continue to defend the interests of ethnic Russians abroad – up to 3 million of whom live in the east of Ukraine, which has been in separatist ferment since April.
The United States said the separatists had not abided by the ceasefire and Poroshenko had “a right to defend his country”.
Within hours of Poroshenko’s early morning announcement, his military went into action against rebel bases and checkpoints, bombarding them from the air and with artillery.
“The terrorists’ plan to significantly escalate armed confrontation has been disrupted and the threat of losses to the civilian population and service personnel has been liquidated,” the Defence Ministry said.
There was no immediate word on casualties.
Poroshenko, who accuses Russia of fanning the conflict and allowing fighters and equipment to cross the border to support the rebels, turned his back on another renewal of a 10-day unilateral ceasefire after the phone talks involving Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande.
Showing impatience at what he had heard from Putin, Poroshenko said in his early morning statement that Ukraine had not seen “concrete steps for de-escalating the situation, including strengthening controls on the border”.
Poroshenko, just over three weeks in office, faces a possible popular backlash at home over military losses during the ceasefire and was under pressure to switch to more forceful action against the rebels.
Speaking to Martin Schulz who was yesterday re-elected to the post of President of the European Parliament, Poroshenko named the conditions for resuming the cease-fire, namely the establishment of control over the border with the OSCE monitoring and release of all hostages.
A French diplomatic source said the Russian, Ukrainian, German and French foreign ministers would meet in Berlin on Wednesday to try to push forward peace initiatives to resolve the crisis in Ukraine.
‘Militants and marauders’
Many of Poroshenko’s security advisers told him that the rebels had used the June 20 ceasefire, renewed for three days on 27 June, to regroup and rearm.
A statement tweeted by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry on Monday, as Poroshenko went into talks with his security chiefs, said 27 Ukrainian servicemen had been killed and 69 wounded since the start of the ceasefire.
Announcing the military would now act to answer the “terrorists, militants and marauders”, Poroshenko accused the rebels of failing to keep to the truce or follow a peace plan he had outlined.
Later on his Facebook page, the 48-year-old leader warned the future would be difficult, adding: “We must be united, because we are fighting to free our land from dirt and parasites.”
Putin bluntly suggested Poroshenko had been isolated in Monday’s phone-in with himself, Merkel and Hollande.
“Unfortunately President Poroshenko took the decision to restart military operations and we – I mean myself and my European colleagues – could not convince him that the road to stable, strong and long-lasting peace does not lie through war,” he said.
“Up until now [Poroshenko] was not directly linked to the order to start military operations but now he has taken on this responsibility fully, not only militarily but also politically,” Putin said.
It was not immediately known whether Berlin and Paris agreed with this version of Monday’s discussions.
US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Washington supported Poroshenko’s move.
“It takes two to keep a ceasefire,” she told a regular news briefing. “President Poroshenko put in place a seven-day ceasefire; he abided by it, but the fact remains that the separatists, many of them weren’t adhering to it, and he has a right to defend his country.”
She said US Secretary of State John Kerry had spoken on Monday to Poroshenko, who had said he was still committed to a peace plan.
“So the ultimate goal here is to get back to a ceasefire, to get back to a peace plan, but it takes two parties to put that in place and to keep it in place,” Harf said.
Before Putin spoke, the Russian Foreign Ministry hinted that the United States was behind Poroshenko’s decision. “There is an impression that the change in Kiev’s position […] could not have come about without influence from abroad, despite the position of leading EU member states,” it said in a statement.
The US State Department said Kerry, in a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday, “expressed strong concern about the refusal of Russian-supported separatists to take the necessary steps and provide the kinds of assurances that would have enabled an extension of the ceasefire and stressed the importance of taking steps to de-escalate.”
Kerry also made clear the United States and its partners would “continue to press Russia to end all support and weapons flowing to separatists, to do more to control the border, to call on separatists to lay down their arms, to return the border checkpoints they hold to Ukrainian government control, and to release all remaining hostages,” the State Department statement said.
EU not ready to impose new sanctions
In the meantime, senior diplomats met in Brussels yesterday to consider whether new measures were needed after a summit of EU leaders on Friday warned Moscow that sanctions were on the cards if peace talks didn’t produce results.
“[They] decided they will monitor the situation,” one EU diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The picture on the ground is mixed. In the meantime, there are intensified preparations for sanctions.”
Two other diplomats confirmed the assessment.
The Russian, Ukrainian, German and French foreign ministers will meet in Berlin today to try to push forward peace initiatives to resolve the crisis in Ukraine, a French diplomatic source said.
“There is not a precise objective. It’s an opportunity to work on peace efforts, but we don’t want to raise expectations,” the source said yesterday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov backed the idea of the July 2 meeting with France’s Laurent Fabius and Ukraine’s Pavlo Klimkin during a telephone conversation with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier about the Ukraine crisis late on Tuesday, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
Speaking at the annual conference of Russian Ambassadors, President Vladimir Putin commented on the situation in Ukraine and on his country’s relations with the West:
“In Ukraine, as you may have seen, at threat were our compatriots, Russian people and people of other nationalities, their language, history, culture and legal rights, guaranteed, by the way, by European conventions. When I speak of Russians and Russian-speaking citizens I am referring to those people who consider themselves part of the broad Russian community, they may not necessarily be ethnic Russians, but they consider themselves Russian people.
“What did our partners expect from us as the developments in Ukraine unfolded? We clearly had no right to abandon the residents of Crimea and Sevastopol to the mercy of nationalist and radical militants; we could not allow our access to the Black Sea to be significantly limited; we could not allow NATO forces to eventually come to the land of Crimea and Sevastopol, the land of Russian military glory, and cardinally change the balance of forces in the Black Sea area. This would mean giving up practically everything that Russia had fought for since the times of Peter the Great, or maybe even earlier – historians should know.
“I would like to make it clear to all: this country will continue to actively defend the rights of Russians, our compatriots abroad, using the entire range of available means – from political and economic to operations under international humanitarian law and the right of self-defence.
“I would like to stress that what happened in Ukraine was the climax of the negative tendencies in international affairs that had been building up for years. We have long been warning about this, and unfortunately, our predictions came true.”
Putin also referred to the $10-billion fine to the French bank Paribas by the US authorities, presenting it as retaliation for the sale by Paris to Russia of Mistral class warships:
“I know this has no direct bearing on us, however what is being done to the French banks can cause nothing but indignation in Europe in general and here as well. We are aware of the pressure our American partners are putting on France to force it not to supply Mistrals to Russia. We even know that they hinted that if France does not deliver the Mistrals, the sanctions will be quietly lifted from their banks, or at least they will be significantly minimised.
“What is this if not blackmail? Is this the right way to act on the international arena? Besides, when we speak of sanctions, we always assume that sanctions are applied pursuant to Article 7 of the UN Charter. Otherwise, these are not sanctions in the true legal sense of the word, but something different, some other unilateral policy instrument.”
“We have always held high our reputation of a reliable supplier of energy resources and invested in the development of gas infrastructure. Together with European companies, as you may know, we have built a new gas transportation system called Nord Stream under the Baltic Sea. Despite certain difficulties, we will promote the South Stream project, especially since ever more European politicians and businessmen are coming to understand that someone simply wants to use Europe in their own interests, that it is becoming a hostage of someone’s near-sighted ideologised approaches.
“The violation by Ukraine of its commitments regarding the purchase of our natural gas has become a common problem. Kiev refuses to pay on its debt. This is absolutely unacceptable. They have not paid for November-December of last year, though there were no arguments whatsoever then.
“Our [Ukrainian] partners are using blatant blackmail – this is what it is. They demand an ungrounded reduction of prices on our goods, though the agreement was signed in 2009, and the parties complied with it in good faith. Now, as you may know, the court in Kiev has lifted all accusations against Ukraine’s former Prime Minister Tymoshenko, who signed the contract. Thus, the Kiev court authorities admit that they have done everything right not only by international law, but by Ukrainian law as well. But they do not wish to comply, or to pay for the product already received.
“As of June 16, as you may know, we have transferred Ukraine to a pre-payment system, so they will get exactly the amount of gas they pay for. Today they do not pay; therefore, they are not getting anything – only in the so-called reverse mode. We know all about this reverse mode: it is a fake; there is no reverse mode. How can you supply gas two ways along the same pipeline? One does not have to be a gas transportation expert to understand that this is impossible. They are playing tricks with some of their partners: in fact, they are getting our gas and paying some western partners in Europe who are not receiving their volume. We are quite aware of this.”
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 and Luhansk, which the West called illegal and illegitimate.
- 2 July: Foreign Ministers of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany to meet in Berlin