Ukrainian government troops retook a majority of districts in the country’s battle-torn east and separatist activity dropped after President Petro Poroshenko ended a 10-day unilateral cease-fire with the rebels.
French PresidentFrancois Hollande and German ChancellorAngela Merkel called Russian President Vladimir Putin, raising pressure on him to push the pro-Russian militants to reach an agreement with Ukraine, as they stepped up diplomacy aimed at reinstating the cease-fire. With the violence continuing unabated, the foreign ministers ofGermany, France, Ukraine and Russia agreed at a meeting in Berlin two days ago to work for a comprehensive cease-fire in another round of talks by tomorrow.
The call by Merkel and Hollande, who have become Putin’s main negotiating counterparts during the conflict forEurope and the U.S., came as Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said its forces killed hundreds of rebels in the country’s east. As Europe and the United States consider tightening sanctions against Russia, there’s little chance of an enduring truce, said Jan Techau, director of Carnegie Europe.
“The long game has started -- the real game between the Russians who want to keep the conflict simmering and the West that wants to stabilize situation to win political and economic progress in Ukraine,” Techau said today. “A cease-fire is unrealistic as long as Russia is not sealing and controlling its borders. But this would likely mean the separatists would lose.”
Poroshenko said a new round of peace talks with Russia and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe could be possible as early as tomorrow, according to a statement on his website. He ended a cease-fire by government forces this week, blaming the insurgents for breaking the truce more than 100 times, while killing 27 soldiers and wounding 69. He discussed the situation with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden yesterday, Poroshenko’s office said in a statement.
Ukrainian forces have retaken 17 cities and villages since it began its military operation against the separatists, and the government now controls 23 of the 36 districts in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, National Security Council chief Andriy Parubiy said today in Kiev. He said Ukrainian forces had destroyed one rebel tank, an anti-aircraft position and five armored vehicles carrying militants this week.
“Militant activity has decreased significantly,” Parubiy said. “The terrorists have taken severe losses that already count in the hundreds.”
Ukraine and its allies say the insurgents in the mainly Russian-speaking border regions are backed by Putin’s government, which Russia denies.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Merkel agreed the U.S. and Europe should take additional measures to “impose costs” on Russia if it doesn’t take steps to ease the crisis “in short order,” the White House said in a statement.
“Above all, Russia must play its part and exercise its influence over the separatists in the east of Ukraine so that these groups also observe a cease-fire,” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in an e-mailed statement.
Ukraine’s hryvnia rose 0.1 percent against the dollar at 2:38 p.m. in Kiev. It’s lost 31 percent this year, the worst performance among more than 170 currencies tracked by by Bloomberg show. The ruble fell 0.4 percent against its euro/dollar basket.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking to reporters in Moscow yesterday, said that “our Western colleagues” must adopt “the key role” in persuading the Kiev authorities to heed the appeal for a truce.
Putin sent a telegram to Obama marking U.S.Independence Day, saying he hoped ties between Russia and the U.S. “will successfully develop on a pragmatic and equal basis, despite difficulties and disputes,” the Kremlin said today in a statement on its website.
While Poroshenko said he’s ready to resume peace talks without any additional conditions, he stressed that a truce could only come about after he gets confirmation it will be observed by separatists, and once all hostages are released and observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are monitoring the border with Russia.
Ukrainian forces killed about 150 rebels near the village of Nikolaevka in the past week, Interfax news service reported today, citing Defense Ministry spokesman Oleksiy Dmytrashkovsky. On the Ukrainian side, two soldiers were killed yesterday, he said. It was impossible to confirm the numbers, and the separatists don’t regularly comment on their casualties.
Several shells from the Ukrainian side also targeted the Russian border checkpoint Novashakhtinsk, Interfax reported, citing Vasiliy Malayev, a spokesman for the regional branch of Russia’s Border Service. There were no casualties, with only some infrastructure damage reported, Interfax said.
There were civilian casualties as a result of firefights in the town of Kramatorsk, the Donetsk regional administration said on its website, without providing details. Rebels also attacked a National Guard checkpoint in the Starobeshevsky district, it said.