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Putin Says War With Ukraine 'Unlikely'

  • RFE/RL

Relatives and friends meet returning Ukrainian soldiers in Lviv on February 23.

Relatives and friends meet returning Ukrainian soldiers in Lviv on February 23.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says a war with Ukraine is "unlikely" and he hopes "it will never happen."

Putin, in an interview with Russian state television broadcast on February 23, called such a war "an apocalyptic scenario."

Ukraine, the United States, NATO, and many EU governments have long said that Russia has provided arms, military hardware, and troops to pro-Russian separatists fighting the Ukrainian government in eastern Ukraine.

Putin again rejected those charges and said it was wrong for Kyiv to blame Russia for Ukrainian forces' defeat in the town of Debaltseve.

Putin added that he thinks he "understands" and "generally trusts" German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, the two brokers of a recent Minsk cease-fire agreement.

He said he maintains contact with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and believes that the Minsk cease-fire agreement will be adhered to and that the situation in eastern Ukraine "will gradually return to normal."

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (right) watch honor guards pass by as they attend a wreath-laying ceremony to mark the Defender of the Fatherland Day at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near the Kremlin on February 23.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (right) watch honor guards pass by as they attend a wreath-laying ceremony to mark the Defender of the Fatherland Day at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near the Kremlin on February 23.

His comments come as the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine are due to meet in Paris on February 24 to try to get the peace deal back on track.

Earlier, Ukraine delayed a planned pullback of heavy weapons from the front line in eastern Ukraine.

A military spokesman said the pullback will not start until rebel attacks fully stop.

Under the Minsk agreement, both sides are to withdraw their heavy weapons 25 to 70 kilometers back from the demarcation line to create a buffer zone.

Ukraine's military said the rebels were pressing on with attacks on government forces near the city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.

Pro-Kyiv regional police said one officer was killed and two wounded late on February 23 when police clashed with militants after stopping their car in Mariupol, the largest government-held city in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Police said a bag of explosives had been found in the vehicle and that one of the rebels was also killed.

Ukrainian defense officials also said rebels were still trying to overrun a Ukrainian government position in Shyrokyne, outside of Mariupol.

A rebel commander, Eduard Basurin, denied any rebel attack in Shyrokyne, telling Reuters, "At the moment, all is quiet."

The head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the cease-fire has "very significantly" lowered the number of clashes between government forces and the rebels.

Lamberto Zannier said on February 23 that there have been a number of violations in the south, and some limited incidents around the town of Debaltseve and around the Donetsk airport, both seized by separatists.

The OSCE has observers in Ukraine to monitor the cease-fire.

In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron said Moscow would face fresh Western sanctions if the rebels attempt to grab any more land.

"Far from changing course, Russia's totally unjustifiable and illegal actions in eastern Ukraine have reached a new level with the separatists' blatant breach of the cease-fire," he told parliament.

The U.S. ambassador to NATO, Douglas Lute, said it was still too early to "give up hope on the cease-fire."

With reporting by Reuters, Russian state television, Interfax
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