Ukraine Crisis: Sides Refuse To Withdraw Big Guns

ukraineUkraine Government and pro-Russian separatists said they would not carry out an agreement to pull back heavy guns in east Ukraine on Tuesday, pushing a shaky peace deal closer to collapse.

Fighting had eased in many areas since a ceasefire came into force on Sunday, but the rebels have refused to halt attacks on a town where Ukrainian forces are encircled.

Monitors from the OSCE security group were expected to try to reach the besieged town, Debaltseve, after Germany said it had agreed steps with the leaders of Russia and Ukraine to ensure the observers had “free access” in the east.

The German chancellor and Ukrainian President called on the Russian President to exercise his influence on the separatists to enforce the ceasefire.”

A call by Berlin for the withdrawal of heavy weaponry to start seemed to have fallen on deaf ears, though officials from Russia, Ukraine, the OSCE and the rebels were expected to discuss implementation of the peace deal by phone.

“We do not have the right (to stop fighting for Debaltseve). It’s even a moral thing. It’s internal territory,” Denis Pushilin, a senior separatist representative, said.

“We have to respond to fire, to work on destroying the enemy’s fighting positions.”

He said: “We are ready at any time, we have everything ready for a mutual withdrawal. We will not do anything unilaterally that would make our soldiers targets.”

Ukraine’s military said on Tuesday that five soldiers had been killed and 14 wounded in the past 24 hours.

Ukraine’s military reiterated that its forces could also not start withdrawing big weapons such as heavy artillery, as set out in the deal reached at marathon talks brokered by France and Germany in the Belarussian capital, Minsk, last Thursday.

The pull-back can happen only on fulfillment of the first point of the Minsk agreements of  the ceasefire.

“In the last 24 hours there had been firing so there is no ceasefire and no precondition for a pull-back of heavy weapons either.”

Ukraine Army Helicopter ‘Shot Down’ Near Sloviansk

Ukraine Army helicopterAs the crisis in Ukraine continues, pro-Russian rebels in the East have shot down a military helicopter near the flashpoint city of Sloviansk killing 14 people.

The aircraft was reportedly hit after offloading soldiers at a military base.

Sloviansk has seen fierce fighting between separatists and government forces in recent weeks.

President-elect, Petro Poroshenko has vowed to tackle the uprising in eastern Ukraine, saying he would deal firmly with “bandits” and “murderers”.

There has been an upsurge in the conflict since Mr Poroshenko’s election on Sunday. The rebels say they lost up to 100 fighters when they tried to seize Donetsk airport on Monday.

Since then further clashes have been reported in several areas – including Sloviansk – where pro-Russia militiamen are holding four international monitors.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said that the missing OSCE members were alive and well and there was hope they would be released soon.

“We have not yet been able to re-establish contact with them; it has now been since Monday. Of course, as the days pass we get more concerned but we are using all of our contacts, all our government contacts, diplomatic contacts, non-state actors on the ground of which there are many, to re-establish contact with them.

“We believe they are fine, they are well but of course one thing we do want is to see them return to their base in Donetsk,” Bociurkiw said.

Earlier on Thursday, the leader of pro-Russian separatists in the area where the monitors were seized said they are likely to be released soon.

Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, whose separatist group controls the town of Slaviansk, said the OSCE had been warned not to travel in the area, but had sent a four-man team out all the same.

The team, which comprises a Dane, a Turk, an Estonian and a Swiss, are among a few hundred monitors sent to monitor compliance with an international accord for de-escalating the crisis in troubled eastern Ukraine, where separatists have seized control of strategic points in several towns.

Ukraine Crisis: Russia ‘Open To Dialogue’ With New Leader

Petro-PoroshenkoAs initial results tipped Petro Poroshenko to win Ukraine’s election, Russia said that it was “open to dialogue” with the new president of the crisis-torn country.

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said that military action must end against separatists in the east.

Mr Poroshenko said that he would meet Russian leaders soon but vowed to take a tough line on any armed separatists.

Unrest continues in the east, with pro-Russia militiamen halting flights at Donetsk airport.

Meanwhile election observers said Sunday’s vote was a genuine one that largely met international standards.

The mission from the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) also said it gave the new President “legitimacy” to open a dialogue with separatists in the East.

Petro Poroshenko is a confectionery tycoon who backed the pro-European street protests that ousted Moscow ally Viktor Yanukovich from Presidency.

He was the only Ukrainian strongman to swiftly throw his weight behind the popular uprising that started late 2013, devoting his ‘5th Channel’ TV station to the coverage of the protests.

A seasoned politician who served as Foreign Minister and Economy Minister in previous administrations, Poroshenko’s chain of confectionery shops has put the billionaire on Ukraine’s top 10 rich list, earning him the nick-name “Chocolate King”.

Poroshenko, whose chocolate manufacturer, Roshen is one of the world’s top 20 confectionery firms, backs Ukraine’s integration with the west and his firm has been targeted in Russia.