Rebels provoke Ukraine with National Day counter-parade

  
Petro Poroshenko will meet Vladimir Putin Tuesday, 26 August, in Minsk.

Ukraine marked its independence day yesterday (24 August) with a military march-past in Kyiv intended to send a message of defiance to Russia, but pro-Moscow rebels countered by parading captured Ukrainian troops through the streets of their main stronghold.

The rival events highlighted the divide that will have to be bridged if a compromise on Ukraine is to be reached on Tuesday when Russian President Vladimir Putin meets his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko for the first time in months.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who visited Kyiv on Saturday to try to lay the ground-work for a peace deal, said Tuesday's talks were unlikely to produce a breakthrough.

Kyiv's forces are trying to crush a pro-Moscow separatist revolt in the east of Ukraine, and on Sunday intense artillery fire could be heard around the main rebel bastion of Donetsk.

On Independence Square in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv -- scene of protests that pushed out a Moscow-backed president in February and precipitated the current crisis -- President Poroshenko reviewed columns of men and armoured vehicles.

Some of the troops in the march-past were shortly heading to the front line in eastern Ukraine, Poroshenko said.

In an emotional speech, he said his country was fighting "a war against external aggression, for Ukraine, for its freedom, for its people, for independence".

"It is clear that in the foreseeable future, unfortunately, a constant military threat will hang over Ukraine. And we need to learn not only to live with this, but also to be always prepared to defend the independence of our country," he said.

Poroshenko announced about $3 billion (€2.27 billion) would be spent on re-equipping the army in 2015-2017. Ukraine's armed forces are only a fraction of the size of those in Russia.

After Ukraine's previous president, Viktor Yanukovich, fled to Russia, Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in March and parts of the Russian-speaking east rebelled against Kyiv.

Kyiv and its Western allies accuse Moscow of funnelling weapons and men secretly into eastern Ukraine to shore up the struggling rebellion, a claim Moscow denies. Russia has called for an urgent ceasefire to provide help to trapped civilians.

POWs paraded

In separatist-held Donetsk, about 100 people introduced over a public address system as Ukrainian prisoners-of-war were marched through the city's central Lenin Square yesterday.

They looked dirty and unshaven and bowed their heads as they passed. Some had bandaged arms and heads. They were guarded by rebel fighters with guns, their bayonets fixed.

People who came to watch the parade shouted "fascists!" and "murderers!" and some threw bottles at the POWs. Two street-cleaning machines followed the column, spraying water on to the street in a theatrical gesture to indicate the men were unclean.

Earlier on Sunday, artillery shells hit the grounds of one of Donetsk's biggest hospitals. Authorities in Kyiv deny targeting civilian areas.

"This is no independence day. This is a plague on our land, the fascists who have taken control of Kyiv who are now shooting at hospitals and morgues," said Grigory, 71, at a display of captured military hardware in central Donetsk.

Diplomats say Tuesday's meeting between Putin and Poroshenko in the Belarussian capital Minsk may provide the best chance yet of ending a conflict that has left ties between Moscow and the West at their most toxic since the Cold War and has sparked sanctions that are hurting the Russian and European economies.

The two presidents last met in June in a frosty encounter in Normandy, France, at commemorations to mark the World War Two D-Day landings. They did not shake hands. Since then, the momentum in the conflict has tilted in Ukraine's favour.

With strong Western backing and progress on the battlefield, Kyiv is now in a much stronger position. Putin, meanwhile, faces the stark choice of a humiliating defeat for the rebels or giving them direct help and so risking further sanctions that will inflict deeper pain on his economy.

The meeting in Minsk "certainly won't result in a breakthrough," Merkel told Germany's ARD television. "But you have to talk to each other if you want to find solutions."

The European Union's chief diplomat, Catherine Ashton, will be at the meeting to help mediate. On Sunday, Ashton said the meeting provided "an opportunity we should not miss".

Fighting

The sound of shelling in Donetsk on Sunday was unusually intense, with rebels saying the Ukrainian troops were trying to score a victory to mark their national day.

Separatist commanders said they were holding off the attacks and were launching their own counter-assaults.

Alexander Zakharchenko, prime minister of the self-proclaimed 'Donetsk People's Republic', said his forces had launched a counter-attack and were fighting to take the town of Olenivka, about 20 km (12 miles) south of Donetsk.

"I don't want to fight, I don't want to kill anyone, but I will fight to the last for my land," he told reporters. "We want to live the way we want to live on our own soil."

The Ukrainian military authorities said they had been making more advances on the battlefield, though the rebel collapse some in Kyiv had predicted has not materialised.

Ukraine's border guard service said there had been several rounds of shelling into Ukraine from Russian artillery units, echoing similar allegations made by NATO officials.

Officials in Kyiv said 722 people with Ukrainian government forces had died to date, a jump from 568 announced on 11 August.

Russian convoy leaves

All 227 vehicles that entered Ukraine as part of a Russian aid convoy have now returned to Russian soil, security watchdog the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said on Saturday.

The Vienna-based OSCE said in a statement the vehicles were counted back in to Russia from Ukraine by its observer mission deployed at a border crossing.

Western leaders had joined Kyiv in calling the Russian convoy -- about 220 white-painted trucks that crossed the border without authorisation of Friday-- an illegal incursion onto Ukraine's soil, and demanded that they be withdrawn as soon as possible.

 

Timeline: 
  • 26 Aug.:  Poroshenko to attend Customs Union summit in Minsk;
  • 30 Aug.: EU leaders hold summit in Brussels;
  • 30 Aug.: Poroshenko to meet with EU leaders in Brussels;
  • 4-5 Sept.: Poroshenko to attend NATO summit in Cardiff.
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Comments

Eurochild's picture

"In separatist-held Donetsk, about 100 people introduced over a public address system as Ukrainian prisoners-of-war were marched through the city's central Lenin Square yesterday.

They looked dirty and unshaven and bowed their heads as they passed. Some had bandaged arms and heads. They were guarded by rebel fighters with guns, their bayonets fixed.

People who came to watch the parade shouted "fascists!" and "murderers!" and some threw bottles at the POWs. Two street-cleaning machines followed the column, spraying water on to the street in a theatrical gesture to indicate the men were unclean."

It's ironic that they're shouting fascists, because this parade of the "unclean" by the Donetsk separatists is very reminiscent of Nazi treatment of Jews.

Let us note that these "counter-parades" only happened in very small border areas. The entire rest of the country believes in the unity of Ukraine.

Jay's picture

So what's wrong with letting the small border areas have their independence and the rest of you can be on your merry way?

Jay's picture

The Western media mill grinds on with a EU wind in its sails.

This Ukrainian conflict started with an ill-considered American-backed coup d'etat. It is a "Made-in-America" conflict like so many others.

Ukraine cannot have a free trade zone with both European and Eurasian Union. Ukraine ratifies the EU agreement, Russia cuts the trade ties, Ukraine economy is toast. It does not ratify the EU agreement, Poroshenko is toast, EU will not risk open warfare with Russia, therefore, Ukraine is doomed.

Fos_Tonkin's picture

"Whenever it's about Ukraine, Jay and Eurochild will be there - I guarantee it" :)

Jay's picture

Yep, I'm here. We don't need another world war over Ukraine but if it comes, it will get Eurochild before it finds me.

Jay's picture

Separatists opened a new front in south-east Ukraine today, I wouldn't discount Mariupol as the intended target, but probably also, to reduce some of the pressure off Donestk and Luhansk.

Tomorrows meeting in the Belorussian capital Minsk has all the appearances of another exercise in futility.

The Ukrainian state stands poised between life and death. Continuing down the path toward integration with Europe, which the Ukrainian parliament should conclusively ratify in September, will deal a mortal blow to the Ukrainian economy that has always been remarkably backward since the break up with the USSR. The economy has gone nowhere in the past 25 years and is on the brink of collapsing now.

Fos_Tonkin's picture

And what happened with the Malaysian plane crash investigation? Somehow everyone got silent on that topic… Do I smell Freedom in the air or it's just the smell of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction? :)

Jay's picture

Ahhh, yes, Malaysian Airlines MH17,

On August 8, Ukraine, the Netherlands, Australia and Belgium signed a non-disclosure agreement pertaining to data obtained during the investigation into the causes of the crash of Malaysian Airlines MH17.

This was confirmed at a briefing in Kiev under the auspices of the office of the Prosecutor General Yuri Boychenko. In his words, the results of the investigation will be published once completed only if a consensus agreement of all parties that have signed the agreement prevails.

Any one of the signatories has the right to veto the publication of the results of the investigation without explanation.

Following the signing of this agreement, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine ratified the agreement and allowed for the participation of Malaysian staff to participate in the investigation.

The conclusion is simple, yes, no?

Fos_Tonkin's picture

Thank you for your time, Jay!

Smells like Freedom to me :)