War With Neighbouring Ukraine Is ‘Unlikely’ – Putin

putinRussian President Vladimir Putin has said war with neighboring Ukraine is “unlikely.”

Vladimir Putin was being interviewed on state television when he was asked if he expected a war between the two countries.

In his interview – his first extended comments since the ceasefire deal was agreed on 12 February – Mr Putin was asked if there was a real threat of war, given the situation in eastern Ukraine.

“I think that such an apocalyptic scenario is unlikely and I hope this will never happen,” he said.

Mr Putin said that if the Minsk agreement was implemented, eastern Ukraine would “gradually stabilise”.

“Europe is just as interested in that as Russia. No-one wants conflict on the edge of Europe, especially armed conflict,” he said.

Ukraine said Russian troops had been fighting in Ukraine, a claim Mr Putin repeated denied.

Mr Putin also said he did not see the need for another meeting with France, Germany and Ukraine on peace in the region and that he hoped the accords agreed to in Minsk would be respected.

He added that the four countries trust each other “on the whole”.

Mr Putin’s words came after Ukraine had halted the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line, blaming continuing attacks from pro-Russian rebels.

However, Ukraine claimed there had been attacks against its forces and is now refusing to budge.

Lieutenant Colonel Anatoliy Stelmakh said the retreat would not proceed until rebel attacks stop entirely – something that was supposed to occur from 15 February.

Foreign ministers from Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany are meeting in Paris on Tuesday to discuss the ceasefire.

On Monday, Ukraine’s military said rebel shelling had prevented them withdrawing heavy weapons from the front line.

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 Crisis: Fierce Fighting Despite Minsk Peace Deal

ukraineUkraine and Russian-backed rebels fought fiercely across the east of the country on Friday despite a new peace deal brokered by Germany and France.

The deal, sealed by the leaders of Germany and France on Friday after 16 hours of all-night talks in Minsk, capital of Belarus, with the Russian and Ukrainian presidents, was soon overshadowed by the clashes.

The fiercest battles were over control of the town of Debaltseve, a strategic town in between rebel-held areas where separatists used rockets and artillery to attack government forces holding the town.

A ceasefire is due to come into effect from Sunday under the agreement, which also envisages a withdrawal of the heavy weapons responsible for many of the 5,000 casualties in the conflict that broke out almost a year ago.

Shelling was reported in Donetsk and Luhansk – rebel bastions near the front line where the pro-Russian rebels face government forces.

Two people were killed and six wounded when a shell hit a cafe in the Kiev-controlled town of Shchastya near rebel-held Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.

“The town’s heating system is broken, power lines are damaged as well as the water supply … So this is how a comprehensive ceasefire is prepared for,” the head of the Kiev-controlled administration, Hennadiy Moskal, said online.

The rebels accused Ukrainian forces of shelling the separatist stronghold of Donetsk and the town of Horlivka, where they said on their website that three children had been killed.

A Ukrainian military spokesman said 11 soldiers had been killed and 40 wounded in the past 24 hours. “The enemy continues to build up forces in the main areas of the armed conflict.”

“Rebels are repeatedly storming the strongholds and base camp of Ukrainian forces,” in and around Debaltseve as well as firing artillery, mortars and rockets, Lysenko said, stressing that government troops had held their positions.

The United States and Europe have threatened further sanctions against Moscow if the rebels seize more territory.