Ukraine said today (13 September) that pro-Russian insurgents had killed three of its soldiers in violation of a truce the foreign ministers of Germany and France will try to revive in Kyiv this week.
The toll brings to four the number of government soldiers killed in combat since the latest ceasefire along the volatile front line went into effect on 1 September.
The rebels have also reported a number of casualties as the 29-month war in the European Union’s backyard drags on at the cost of nearly 9,600 lives.
The deaths come on the eve of a visit by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault for talks with Ukrainian officials on ending one of Europe’s bloodiest crises since the 1990s Balkans Wars.
The leaders of the two nations helped negotiate a broad February 2015 peace agreement that was supposed to end fighting and decide the rebel-run regions’ status by the end of last year (see background).
But that agreement and the subsequent series of temporary ceasefires have done little to halt a war that has driven about two million people from their homes and destroyed much of the former Soviet republic’s industrial heartland.
The lack of progress has forced the sides to prolong the so-called Minsk Agreement through 2017.
Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk told reporters that the latest deaths occurred in both the eastern breakaway provinces of Lugansk and Donetsk.
“Tragically, three Ukrainian servicemen were killed and 15 of our fighters were wounded. One serviceman remains unaccounted for,” Motuzyanyk said.
Motuzyanyk said the two deaths in Lugansk were “especially rare” since the region has been relatively more quiet than its larger separatist neighbour.
“A secret subversive group crossed the river and attacked our soldiers. The battle lasted for 15 minutes,” the military spokesman said.
On Monday (12 September), separatist officials accused Ukraine of not honouring the truce, saying the Ukrainian military had fired heavy weapons at residential areas around the rebel-held Donetsk city, separatist news site DAN reported.
The leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine (the so-called Normandy format) gave their support to a deal to end fighting in eastern Ukraine, following 17-hour long negotiations in the Belarussian capital Minsk on 12 February.
The four leaders committed to respecting Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, according to a joint declaration.
Western leaders are closely observing the implementation of the Minsk agreement.
On 2 March 2015, European leaders said that they agreed that the OSCE needed a broader role as observers of the ceasefire, and weapons removal.
On 2 October 2015, the leaders of the Normandy format admitted that it would take time to organise elections in Ukraine that respect international standards and as a result, the so-called Minsk peace process would run into next year.