Russia Says Ukraine Rejecting Its Own Regions With Blockade

  • East Ukraine is in ‘unprecedented situation,’ Kremlin says
  • No ‘written’ Russian plans to absorb rebel areas, Peskov says

Russia accused Ukraine of “consciously” rejecting its own land and people by imposing a blockade of separatist-held territory in the country’s east.

The Ukrainian government in Kiev “is decisively and consistently driving away its own regions” and “undermining its own territorial integrity,” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters on a conference call Friday. Ukraine’s “total blockade” of its own citizens in the rebel-held areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions is “an unprecedented situation,” he said.

Russia, which sparked fear among neighboring countries and drew international sanctions after annexing Crimea from Ukraine, has no “written scenarios” to absorb the separatist areas, though it will continue to support them, Peskov said. He declined to say if they could be part of the country in the future.

Russia’s criticisms add to surging tensions over the three-year conflict after Ukraine pledged this week to halt all cargo into and out of rebel-held areas. Police began closing off roads and railways on Wednesday, widening unsanctioned barricades that were put up in January by disgruntled veterans of the fighting with Russian-backed insurgents. The government, which had sought to end the blockade, now says the measures will stay in place until the separatists abide by a cease-fire and return businesses they partially took over this month to Ukrainian control.

Ukrainian ‘Tinderbox’

Eastern Ukraine remains a “tinderbox” even as truce violations fell by 15 percent in the past week, Alexander Hug, deputy chief of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s monitoring mission, told reporters via video link from Kiev on Friday. Government troops and rebel forces are still too close to each other and continue to keep heavy weapons near the front line, he said.

Ukraine, the U.S. and the European Union accuse Russia of sending troops and weapons to support the separatists in a conflict that’s killed nearly 10,000 people since April 2014. Russia denies the allegation. A February 2015 peace agreement negotiated in Minsk, Belarus, by Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France has stalled and fighting continues to flare.

The U.S. and the EU imposed sanctions over Russia’s role in the conflict and the March 2014 annexation of Crimea following a referendum that wasn’t internationally recognized. The U.S. “condemns the Russian occupation of Crimea and calls for its immediate end,” the State Department said Thursday in a statement marking the third anniversary of the takeover.

Ukraine “sooner or later” should accept Crimea’s vote to join Russia as the will of the people there, Peskov said. While the Kremlin wants a unified and predictable Ukraine, the blockade shows that Putin was right in February to order Russian officials to recognize passports issued by separatists in the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk republics, Peskov said.

Putin discussed the Ukrainian blockade with his security council on Friday as well as the sanctions imposed by Ukraine on Russian state-owned banks, Peskov said.

The separatist leader in Luhansk, Igor Plotnitskiy, said the rebels will “definitely” hold a referendum on joining Russia, the RIA Novosti news service reported Friday. “Of course we will initiate one, but everything in good time.”

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