Ukraine accused pro-Russian rebels of starting at least seven skirmishes yesterday in violation of a cease-fire, and urged President Vladimir Putin’s government to “stop hiring and recruiting militants.”
Rebels killed five Ukrainian soldiers in violation of a truce extended by the country’s government after the European Union gave Russia three days to quell the insurgency or face deeper sanctions. Thirteen soldiers also were wounded in the attacks by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s eastern region while five suffered shell shock, Ukraine National Security Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko told reporters in Kiev today.
“Militants regularly break the cease-fire,” Lysenko said. “Ukraine demands from Russia to immediately stop support of terrorrists and to stop hiring and recruiting militants in Ukraine and in Russia’s Rostov and Krasnodar regions.”
Both sides continued to trade accusations. Ukraine’s National Guard said in a statement on its website that militants in the eastern part of the country shot “massively” at a guard road block in the Donetsk region today, without hurting any soldiers. Russia’s RIA Novosti state news wire said Ukraine forces shelled the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk, a rebel stronghold in Donetsk. Three people, including two women, were killed in the shelling, Russian state TV Rossia 24 said, without saying where it obtained the information.
The violence occurred as EU leaders in Brussels demanded on June 27 that the separatists, who Ukraine and its allies say are backed by Putin, abide by a cease-fire that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had extended through tomorrow, release hostages and start talks to implement a peace plan.
Rebel leaders agreed to the extension, according to news service Interfax. Still, the defense ministry in Kiev said yesterday’s casualties occurred in two separate incidents.
“The situation in the Eastern regions continues to escalate,” the ministry said in a statement. “Insurgents are ignoring the peace plan to ease the situation in Ukraine’s east and keep attacking troops.”
Rebels in eastern Ukraine released eight monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe who had been held hostage since late May, according to accounts from the OSCE and Alexander Maltsev, a separatist spokesman for the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. One group of four was freed June 27 and the second group yesterday, they said.
Other people not associated with the OSCE are still being held in the region.
The EU leaders said that failure to meet their demands will result in “further significant restrictive measures” against Russia, according to a statement issued June 27.
“If no visible progress is made on these points, then we are prepared to take further decisions, including drastic measures,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the meeting. “We expect progress to come really in the hours ahead.”
The U.S. also blames Putin for supporting rebels and stoking violence the United Nations says has killed more than 400 people in the country of more than 40 million. The U.S. is preparing sanctions against Russia on technology aimed at exploiting and producing oil and gas products, a major part of that country’s economy, according to three people briefed on the plans.
The U.S. and European allies imposed sanctions about two months ago on a small number of people and companies close to Putin.
The U.S. is pushing Ukraine into conflict with Russia, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday, adding that the government in Kiev must consult with those in the country who are seeking more autonomy.
“There are our partners from overseas, our American colleagues who, based on plentiful evidence, still prefer to push the Ukrainian authorities along the confrontational road,” Lavrov said on state-run television.
He also said that while separatists in eastern Ukraine’s self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk listen to Moscow, they don’t respond to all requests from the Kremlin.
Poroshenko signed a free-trade pact June 27 with the 28-member EU to bolster solidarity with the richer nations to Ukraine’s west. He said the agreement showed Ukraine’s “sovereign choice in favor of future membership of the EU.”
“We’re just looking to modernize our country,” Poroshenko said in an interview in the French daily Le Figaro published yesterday. “We introduce freedom, democracy and rule of law, European values, and we’re being attacked because of it.”
A previous rejection of the trade accord by the man Poroshenko replaced, Viktor Yanukovych, triggered deadly protests in Kiev last November that this year ousted the pro-Russian administration. Russia responded by annexing Crimea from Ukraine and has voiced support for Russian speakers in Ukraine’s southeast, who it says are under attack by their own government.
About 67 percent of Ukrainians would vote to join the EU in a referendum, according to a June 6-11 Razumkov Center poll of 2,012 voters, versus 20 percent who wouldn’t.
While the deal doesn’t offer EU membership, it gives Ukrainian companies better access to the world’s biggest trading bloc and will boost exports by 1 billion euros ($1.4 billion) a year, according to an EU estimate. In exchange, Ukraine pledged to use EU funds to meet product, safety and consumer standards, bolster human rights and fight graft.