Tuesday, May 24, 2016


Ukraine

Kremlin Says Russia Backs Ukraine Cease-Fire, But Not Party To Agreement

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) shakes hands with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ahead of talks in Minsk on August 26.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) shakes hands with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ahead of talks in Minsk on August 26.
By RFE/RL

Vladimir Putin's spokesman has denied that the Russian president and Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko agreed on a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, saying that Russia is not a party to the conflict there.

Dmitry Peskov was speaking after Poroshenko's office said in a statement that the two leaders, in a telephone conversation, had reached agreement on a permanent cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists are fighting government forces.

Peskov said Putin and Poroshenko "did discuss steps which would contribute to a cease-fire."

However, he said, "Russia cannot agree on a cease-fire as it is not a participant in the conflict."

The initial statement on Poroshenko's website was later replaced by one that said he and Putin had agreed "on [a] cease-fire regime" in eastern Ukraine.

Russia denies Western accusations that it has sent troops and weapons into Ukraine.
     
Earlier, Peskov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that Putin's and Poroshenko's views on ways out of the crisis "coincided to a substantial degree."

There was no mention of agreement on a cease-fire in those reports.

The reports came as fighting continued in eastern Ukraine and U.S. President Barack Obama was meeting Baltic leaders in Estonia in a show of support for NATO allies nervous about Putin's intentions.

The Ukraine crisis may dominate a NATO summit that follows in Wales on September 4-5, and the European Union has been discussing potential new sanctions against Russia, which Kyiv and Western governments accuse of sending troops into eastern Ukraine. Russia denies it.

Putin and Poroshenko made no apparent progress toward ending the conflict during a rare face-to-face meeting in Minsk last week, but representatives of Russia, Ukraine, and the rebels met in the Belarusian capital on September 1 and may meet again later this week.

A turret and cannon from a Ukrainian Army tank is pictured at the site of a destroyed Ukrainian checkpoint outside the town of Olenivka near Donetsk.
A turret and cannon from a Ukrainian Army tank is pictured at the site of a destroyed Ukrainian checkpoint outside the town of Olenivka near Donetsk.

The separatists appeared close to defeat last month but have gained ground more recently, taking a town near the border on the Sea of Azov and driving government troops from the airport outside Luhansk, one of two rebel-held provincial capitals in southeastern Ukraine.

Ukraine's pro-Western government says the gains have come as a result of injections of Russian troops and weapons, and NATO said last week it believed there were more than 1,000 Russian soldiers in Ukraine. 

Two nongovernmental groups established by the mothers of Russian soldiers have estimated that 10,000 or more Russian troops have been deployed to Ukrainian territory.

Russia denies it has sent soldiers or weapons into Ukraine.

The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Russia over Moscow's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March and its role in the conflict in the southeast. 

NATO leaders, at a summit this week, are expected to unveil the establishment of a rapid-reaction force that could be deployed near Russia's borders.

Obama's spokesman has said his meetings in Tallinn on September 3 underscore the U.S. commitment to Baltic nations in NATO, which are increasingly concerned about potential threats to their own countries from neighboring Russia. Later on September 3, Obama is to travel to Britain for the NATO summit in Wales.

Meanwhile, the European Union is preparing to boost sanctions against Russia.

Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, who will be the next EU foreign policy chief, said she expected EU governments to agree on the new, tougher sanctions by September 5.

Reports say the new sanctions would widen the current ban on Russian state banks borrowing capital in EU markets to cover all Russian state-owned firms. 

They would also tighten bans on sales of energy technology and technology with military and civilian uses. The EU reportedly was also considering adding Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to a list of Russian individuals barred from entering Ukraine, and possibly limiting sport and cultural exchanges.

Moscow responded to the previous round of EU sanctions by banning most food imports from the 28-nation bloc.

It has also banned most food imports from the United States and other Western countries that have imposed sanctions. 

With reporting by Interfax, ITAR-TASS, Reuters, and AFP

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