Ukraine Crisis: Rebels Agree On Weapon Pullout Date

ukraineRebels in Eastern Ukraine have agreed to begin to pull back heavy weapons from the front-line, a Russian general involved in implementing a truce says.

Gen Alexander Lentsov said the pro-Russian rebels had signed the orders to complete the withdrawal over the next two weeks, starting from Sunday.

It is not clear whether the move will be reciprocated by Ukraine.

This comes as Ukraine and the separatists exchanged 191 prisoners, a key part of the Minsk ceasefire deal.

It was the first step carried out successfully under the terms of the February15 agreements signed in the Belarusian capital, brokered by France and Germany.

The exchange came as US Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington was considering “serious sanctions” against Russia following breaches of the truce, and that a decision would be made in the coming days.

Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said sanctions would not help solve Ukraine’s crisis.

Meanwhile, thousands of Ukrainians – as well as a number of European leaders – are expected to take part in a “dignity march” in the capital Kiev on Sunday, remembering the victims of sniper fire during protests last February.

Nearly 5,700 people have died since the fighting erupted last April Ukraine’s Eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Gen Lentsov, a Russian member of the Joint Centre for Control and Co-operation (JCCC), said: “We have designated February 22 the “D-Day” as determined by the agreement from all sides. So from Sunday we will within the period of 14 days observe the agreement on the pullback of heavy weapons.”

He said the leaders of the self-proclaimed rebel Luhansk and Donetsk people’s republics had already signed the orders.

“We hope for Kiev’s participation and help first and foremost,” the general added.

The pullout process had been due to start last Tuesday and completed by March 3, but Gen Lentsov said it would now be March7.

Ukraine and rebel forces accuse each other of multiple breaches of the truce, and there were reports of violations around Donetsk and the port city of Mariupol on Saturday.

The rebels took the strategic transport hub of Debaltseve during the week in spite of the ceasefire, arguing the truce did not apply to the flashpoint town, forcing government troops to retreat.

Ukraine Military Warns Of Danger Ahead Of Ceasefire

militaryThe Ukrainian military on Saturday said that there was a great danger in pro-Russian rebel offensive in east Ukraine ahead of a planned ceasefire, after a heavy fighting was recorded.

An agreement is due to come into effect from Sunday under a peace accord that also envisages a withdrawal of the heavy weapons responsible for casualties, in the conflict that broke out almost a year ago.

A military spokesman, Anatoly Stelmakh, said in a television interview, that “there has been no lull, moreover rebels continue attacks on Debaltseve,” a strategic transport hub northeast of Donetsk city, that has been the focus of some of the fiercest fighting in recent weeks.

The Ukrainian military separately said the situation remained tense in parts of the contested Luhansk region.

The Ukraine President, Petro Poroshenko, also accused Russia of “significantly increasing” its offensive despite the peace agreement reached in Minsk on Thursday.

Shelling was heard in the rebel-held city of Donetsk early on Saturday.

Reports say as the time gets closer for the ceasefire, fears are rising that it won’t be observed.

More than a dozen civilians are said to have died in shelling in eastern Ukraine on Friday.

It is unclear who was behind the shelling but both the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian rebels in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions accuse each other of the attack.

Speaking earlier, President Poroshenko said despite what had been agreed in Minsk, “Russia’s offensive operations have intensified”.

“We are still convinced that the Minsk achievements are in a big danger,” he added.

“Ahead of midnight, rebels are trying to complete tactically important plans to enlarge the territory under their control, primarily in the direction of Debaltseve,” spokesman Andriy Lysenko said

Putin Announces Ceasefire Deal With Ukraine

Ukraine Presidentukraine, Vladimir Putin, has announced ceasefire after meeting all night in Belarus with leaders of Russia, France and Germany, to secure a peace deal. The leaders of Russia and Ukraine have announced that ceasefire will begin in Eastern Ukraine on 15 February.

After marathon talks with leaders of Ukraine, France and Germany, Russia President, Vladimir Putin said “We have managed to agree on the main issues.”

French President, Francois Hollande also said it was a “serious deal” but not everything had been agreed.

The meeting in Belarus – which began on Wednesday – was focused on securing a ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weapons and creating a demilitarized zone in Eastern Ukraine.

Before the meeting started, the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had said that achieving a ceasefire was significant. Thousands of people have been killed and indisposed in the fighting.

Russia has been accused of arming and reinforcing pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine, a claim That was denied.  The talks are set to focus on securing a ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weapons and creating a demilitarized zone.

The Ukrainian and Russian presidents barely looked at each other when they were forced to shake hands. At a family photo of the leaders, not a single person was smiling. There was even an image of Vladimir Putin inside the negotiations snapping a pencil in two.

Heavy shelling was reported in the rebel-held city of Luhansk; by a freelance reporter, Pierre Sautreuil, (in French) that a rebel military base seemed to be the target of one bombardment in the south-east of the city.

Mr Poroshenko had earlier said that the situation threatened to spin “out of control” if the parties did not agree to ceasefire.

The Ukrainian warned that his government was prepared to impose martial law, adding that the Minsk summit was one of the final chances to bring about an unconditional ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons.

US President Barack Obama has refused to rule out supplying “lethal defensive weapons” to Kiev if diplomacy fails, but Russia says that would worsen the crisis.

Ukraine Unrest: Clash At Donetsk Airport Kills Dozens

PAs fighting intensifies in eastern Ukraine, reports say at least 30 pro-Russia separatists have been killed in clashes at the airport in the city of Donetsk when armed separatists tried to take over the airport on Monday.

Earlier, new President Petro Poroshenko vowed that “anti-terrorist operations” in the East would “last hours not months”.

Monday’s clashes started after separatist militants stormed the Sergei Prokofiev Donetsk Airport in the early hours of the morning and ordered Ukrainian soldiers to leave. The Ukraine Army responded by sending in reinforcements and issuing an ultimatum to the local fighters to lay down their arms.

The sound of automatic weapons, heavy machine guns and rockets inside the airport compound resonated for hours while Ukrainian military aircraft was swooped overhead all day.

A local resident said that they were living in fear as many tried to flee the area.

“I just came back from work and saw a gunship flying above my house. We were almost scared to death.”

As the situation intensified, the Co-Chairman of the Donetsk People’s Republic placed the city under martial law.

After hours of fighting, government forces managed to overwhelm some of the positions of local armed forces outside the airport and forced the local fighters to evacuate some of their wounded.

The airport serves a city of 1 million people that the rebels have proclaimed capital of an independent “People’s Republic”, and where they succeeded in blocking all voting in Sunday’s election.

Their attempt to seize the airport may have been intended to prevent President-Elect, Petro Poroshenko from travelling there, as he had said that his first trip in office would be to visit the restive east.

Ukraine Leader Yatsenyuk Holds Talks In Troubled East

Arseniy YatsenyukUkrainian authorities are seeking an end to the crisis in the country as the interim Prime Minister is meeting regional leaders in the East, in a bid to end a stand-off with pro-Russia protesters.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk urged the protesters to tell locals that the Kiev Government would ensure security and economic progress in the East.

He was in Donetsk, where armed pro-Russia activists demanding self-rule were holding a Government building.

Mr Yatsenyuk’s trip comes amid rising tension between Russia and the United States over Russian gas supplies and troop movements.

Yatseniuk met with regional government representatives in the eastern city of Donetsk on Friday (April 11), where pro-Russian separatists continued to occupy an official building.

“I would like to state clearly that the central government is not only ready for dialogue with regions but is ready to fulfill lawful requirements and wishes of all of the citizens of our country.

“In the framework of the changed constitution, we will be able to satisfy specific requests of every single region.”

Separatists in the eastern cities of Donetsk and Lugansk are occupying two official buildings after rejecting a government offer of an amnesty in exchange for laying down their weapons.

The continued occupation raised fears that the authorities could follow through on a threat to use force to clear the buildings that have been occupied for a week.

Protesters wearing bullet-proof vests and armed with Kalashnikov rifles in a former KGB headquarters in Lugansk said that they would lay down their weapons only if Kiev agreed to hold a referendum on the future of the largely Russian-speaking region.

Crimea voted last month for union with Russia in a referendum held after Moscow’s forces had already taken control of the black sea peninsula.

Kiev has rejected holding a similar vote in the East, saying the occupations are part of a Russian-led plan to dismember the country.