The U.S. is helping Ukraine plan how to keep homes and businesses heated during winter as the European Union’s incoming chief diplomat warned the government in Kiev may struggle as freezing temperatures approach.
Fighting continued today in eastern Ukraine amid moves to establish a buffer zone to help cement a wobbly truce that went into effect a little more than a month ago between government forces and pro-Russian separatists.
“We have a team in Ukraine looking at the immediate issues of this winter,” U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said yesterday at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “The issues are, unfortunately, challenging.” Analysts are studying ways to heat homes with fuels other than natural gas, he said.
Ukraine is bracing for the onset of winter, when temperatures at times drop below minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit), with Russian gas supplies shut off and energy infrastructure damaged by the fighting that’s engulfed the country’s easternmost regions. The fuel shortage has already limited access to hot water.
In Brussels, Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini said yesterday that Ukraine faces a “winter that is going to be probably a nightmare from the economic point of view, from the energy point of view.” Mogherini was speaking at a hearing on her nomination to become the EU’s foreign policy chief.
In Kiev, President Petro Poroshenko met with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and discussed the need for “urgent measures” to avoid a humanitarian disaster in his country’s east with winter drawing near, according to the president’s website. Poroshenko spoke of restoring supplies of natural gas, electricity and food products.
While a cease-fire signed Sept. 5 has eased the bloodshed in Ukraine’s easternmost regions, violence has continued on a smaller scale. One Ukrainian soldier has been killed and seven wounded since yesterday, the military said today via Facebook. Militants are continuing efforts to seize the airport in Donetsk, the combat zone’s biggest city, it said.
The conflict has killed at least 3,627 people and wounded 8,446, the United Nations estimates. Russia denies U.S., European and Ukrainian allegations that it’s supplying arms to the rebels and has deployed troops, tanks and artillery in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said yesterday during a visit to Warsaw that the alliance is “concerned” about cease-fire violations and that he hopes “Russia will use its influence” to ensure the truce holds.
Ukraine blames cease-fire violations on rogue elements among the rebels. The separatists are “strictly adhering” to the truce and only open fire when fired upon, the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic said on its website.
The hryvnia, which has tumbled 36 percent in 2014, the most among 176 currencies worldwide tracked by Bloomberg, was little changed at 12.95 per dollar today in Kiev. In Moscow, the ruble was little changed at 39.734 per dollar, near a record low.
In a bid to shore up the truce, an international commission representing Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe started work in the port of Mariupol on Oct. 4. Its main task is to set the boundaries of the 30-kilometer-wide (19-mile) demilitarized area.
A cease-fire monitoring center also opened in Debaltseve, a Ukrainian-held enclave situated 20 kilometers inside rebel-held territory between Donetsk and Luhansk.
The buffer zone, which will span 320 kilometers from Russia’s eastern border to the town of Novoazovsk on the Azov Sea, should also include the Donetsk airport and other locations still subject to fighting, Andrei Kelin, Russia’s permanent representative to the OSCE, told Rossiya 24 TV Oct. 3.
French-German negotiations on sending surveillance drones to eastern Ukraine to monitor the cease-fire are “relatively far advanced,” German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer told reporters yesterday in Berlin.
Poroshenko dismissed Mykola Lytvyn as head of Ukraine’s state border service today.