Ukraine Says Shelling Worsens as Rebels Eye Independence

Ukraine said shelling in its war-ravaged east intensified as the pro-Russian militants the army has been battling described a month-old truce as all but dead.

The insurgents fired artillery rounds at the military 33 times in the past day and keep trying to storm the airport in Donetsk, the combat zone’s biggest city, the Defense Ministry said today on Facebook. Five civilians died yesterday amid shelling in Donetsk, with sporadic blasts still audible this morning, the city council said on its website.

“There is no truce, buffer zones are non-existent,” Andrei Purgin, deputy premier of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, said yesterday via Russian state-run news service RIA Novosti. “Such casualties make any political union with Ukraine impossible.”

While a Sept. 5 cease-fire has stemmed the bloodshed in Ukraine’s easternmost regions, it’s been marred by daily violence. The Foreign Ministry in Kiev says the truce has been violated more than 1,300 times, killing 64 soldiers and 36 civilians. Purgin said the rebels are ready to resume peace talks once Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe agree on the conditions, according to RIA.

Ukraine, the U.S. and the European Union blame Russia for providing weapons, financing and troops to the separatists, a charge Moscow denies. The two sides imposed tit-for-tat sanctions that have depressed economic growth in both the EU and Russia, causing the latter to flirt with a recession.

Ruble Pain

Russia’s ruble strengthened 0.2 percent against the dollar today in Moscow, trimming its slide over the last three months to 14.9 percent, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Russia’s central bank shifted the ruble’s trading band yesterday by the most since March 4 after the fourth intervention this month took the amount spent to defend the currency to $1.85 billion.

Ukraine’s hryvnia, this year’s worst-performing currency, was little changed at 12.95 per dollar.

While the cease-fire may not be fully observed, Russia deems the move constructive and a positive process, Yuri Ushakov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foreign-policy aide, told reporters today in Moscow. Putin may meet Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French leader Francois Hollande at a summit in Milan next week. He isn’t asking for sanctions to be lifted, Ushakov said.

Silence Broken

Poroshenko said last week that shelling must stop for 24 hours for the government to pull its troops back and create a 30-kilometer (19-mile) buffer zone. The government in Kiev said yesterday marked the second occasion since Oct. 5 that a halt in shelling by the military went unreciprocated.

“A day of silence announced by the National Security and Defense Council was accompanied by rebel shelling against government troops and cities in the Luhansk region, which resulted in a number of wounded and killed,” Luhansk’s city council said in a statement on its website.

Poroshenko called this week for the OSCE to provide 29 drones and 1,500 observers to monitor the zone around separatist-held areas and Ukraine’s border with Russia.

Purgin said some estimates put the number of deaths from fighting in the Donetsk region alone at 9,000 in the past six months, though the figure is probably closer to 4,000 or 5,000. That compares with a United Nations estimate of 3,660 deaths and 8,756 injuries in all of eastern Ukraine. At least 331 of those fatalities occurred after the belligerents agreed to a cease-fire in Minsk, Belarus, on Sept. 5, the UN said yesterday.

U.S. Aid

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroisman and Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin flew to Brussels yesterday to meet with Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule and other officials. They planned to discuss aid for Ukraine and hold meetings with NATO officials, according to Ukraine’s government.

President Barack Obama has approved more than $46 million of additional defensive security aid for Ukraine, adding to the $70 million announced earlier, the U.S. Embassy in Kiev said on its website yesterday.

The money will be used to provide Ukraine’s military with equipment such as body armor, night-vision goggles, armored sports-utility vehicles and communications equipment.

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