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Ukraine Says Rebels Violating Cease-Fire

  • RFE/RL

A Russian flag flew above pro-Russia militants sitting atop a self-propelled howitzer in late February, as they took a break in moving from the front line near the eastern town of Starobeshevo, in Donetsk region.

A Russian flag flew above pro-Russia militants sitting atop a self-propelled howitzer in late February, as they took a break in moving from the front line near the eastern town of Starobeshevo, in Donetsk region.

Ukrainian officials say Russian-backed separatists have violated a cease-fire by shelling government positions in eastern Ukraine, including attacks near the southeastern port of Mariupol.

Ukrainian Army spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov said in Kyiv on March 10 that in the past day separatists had fired upon the Donetsk region towns of Pisky, Vodyane, Tonenke, Opytne, Avdiyivka, Troitsk, Luhanske, and near the Dutivska mine.

In the Luhansk region, he said rebels attacked army positions in Sokolnyky and Krymske.

Ukrainian officials said rebels attacked the village of Shyrokyne, near Mariupol, for several hours late on March 9 with tanks and mortars but were repelled.

Rebel attacks near Mariupol have raised concerns that the separatists may seek to seize the Azov Sea port city and push further westward toward Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in March 2014.

A rebel defense official, Eduard Basurin, accused Ukrainian forces of violating the cease-fire by conducting attacks.

In Kyiv, President Petro Poroshenko said late on March 9 that 64 soldiers had died since the cease-fire -- part of a peace deal agreed in the Belarusian capital, Minsk -- went into effect on February 15.

He said a total of 1,549 Ukrainian servicemen -- from the armed forces, National Guard, Interior Ministry, border guards, and Security Service -- have been killed since fighting erupted last year when Ukrainian forces began retaking territory held by separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The United Nations says more than 6,000 people -- including combatants, civilians, and the 298 passengers and crew of a commercial jet that was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July -- have been killed in the conflict since April.

Poroshenko said on Ukrainian TV on March 9 that Ukrainian forces had withdrawn "the lion's share of its rocket and heavy artillery systems" to positions away from the front-line.

He said the pro-Russian rebels had withdrawn a "significant amount" of heavy weapons as well.

Pulling back weapons to create a large buffer zone was a key point of the cease-fire agreement reached on February 12 in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.

As a result of the cease-fire, Poroshenko said Kyiv had "managed to halt the offensive drive of the aggressor."

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has suggested the West should impose sanctions on Kyiv to further implementation of the Minsk deal.

Speaking on March 10, Lavrov accused Ukraine of reneging on commitments he said it made under Minsk deal, which was brokered by the leaders of Germany and France.

Lavrov said that "full implementation of the Minsk agreements is essentially being blocked by the Kyiv authorities."

He claimed Kyiv has cast doubt on what he said were obligations to organize an amnesty and create "working groups" including rebels to discuss economic, political, and humanitarian issues.

"I don't know what instruments of pressure on Kyiv the Americans and Europeans have," he said. "But maybe [they should] impose their favorite mechanism of sanctions on Kyiv in this case."

The United States and European Union have imposed sanctions on Russia over its interference in Ukraine and support for the separatists.

Russia has frequently said sanctions are a flawed and often counterproductive foreign policy tool that is used too frequently by the United States and EU.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on March 10 that a solution to the Ukraine crisis is a long way off.

He said during a visit to Bulgaria that "the road on which we have been and we are on, is probably the first step for calming down the situation, but we all know that we are still very far from a solution."

Steinmeier added that Ukraine will need major financial support.

"And I need to underline again the financial engagement which we will have to Ukraine, given its grave economic situation," he said.

Steinmeier said the previous day that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is monitoring the cease-fire in Ukraine, would increase its mission from 500 to 1,000 observers.

In London, British Foreign-Secretary Philip Hammond said on March 10 that Russia could once again pose the greatest threat to Britain's security.

Hammond, in a speech to the Royal United Studies Institute (RUSI) think tank, said, "We are in familiar territory for anyone over the age of about 50 with Russia's aggressive behavior a stark reminder it has the potential to pose the single greatest threat to our security."

Hammond said the country's spy agencies were stepping up efforts to counter the threat.

"Hence continuing to gather intelligence on Russia capabilities and intentions will remain a vital part of our intelligence effort for the foreseeable future," he said.

At the White House, President Barack Obama and European Council President Donald Tusk agreed on March 9 that Brussels and Washington were united in their determination to maintain sanctions on Russia for its actions in Ukraine.

The United States and Europe have warned Russia that the West could levy additional sanctions if Moscow continues to support the separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Tusk, however, indicated earlier in a New York Times interview that Europe was not yet ready to tighten current sanctions.

With reporting by Reuters, dpa, Interfax, TASS, and AFP
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