Flareup in East Ukraine Fighting Sets Stage for Talks in Berlin

Fighting intensified in eastern Ukraine before the country’s foreign minister meets his counterparts from Russia, Germany and France for talks in Berlin on Monday.

One Ukrainian soldier was killed and six wounded during the past 24 hours, Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, a presidential military spokesman in Kiev, told reporters on Monday. The number of rebels wounded in the clashes has tripled to an average of 15 a day in the last week, the separatist news website DAN reported, citing the acting director of a trauma center in Donetsk.

European powers will try to keep the escalation from derailing a cease-fire accord brokered by Russia, France and Germany two months ago in Minsk, Belarus. A discussion of constitutional changes to devolve power under the peace agreement is set to take center stage in Berlin, according to Otilia Dhand, an analyst at political-risk advisory Teneo Intelligence.

“Failure to reach a deal on a new constitution would likely lead to a re-escalation of hostilities in the near future,” Dhand said by e-mail. “As the clash over the constitutional reform is becoming increasingly visible, the separatists have threatened to push for further territorial gains.”

In the runup to the meeting in the German capital, disputes between the two sides included the question of how to decentralize power in Ukraine and getting the government and Russian-backed separatists to hold talks, diplomats said last week.

Market Reaction

A pause in the conflict in recent weeks has boosted confidence in Russian assets as concerns waned that the U.S. and Europe will impose stiffer sanctions. The ruble, which advanced 5.6 percent last week, strengthened 1.3 percent to 52.9270 versus the dollar as of 5:06 p.m. in Moscow. Yields on five-year government bonds fell for a fourth day, declining to the lowest since Dec. 2. Ukrainian markets were closed for Easter Monday.

Ukrainian leaders and the rebels have traded blame since signing the accord, which aims to halt fighting that the United Nations says has killed more than 6,000 people. Ukraine and its allies in the U.S. and the European say Russia is fomenting the violence by sending troops and equipment to the rebels across the border, an accusation the Kremlin has denied.

Russia’s Emergencies Ministry said it sent 23 trucks as part of the 24th convoy carrying what it called humanitarian aid to the rebel-held regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, with more vehicles expected to join the mission. Ukraine’s government says such convoys cross the border illegally and are being used by Russia to deliver arms and troops to separatists.

“The activity of militants always rises after so-called Russian humanitarian convoys arrive,” Motuzyanyk said.

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