Ukrainian forces yesterday went on the attack against pro-Russian insurgents in the separatist east in defiance of European efforts to extend a shaky 10-day truce.
Western-backed Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told the nation in an emotional late-night address that his peace plan for Ukraine’s worst crisis since independence was being used by the militias to regroup and stock up on heavy arms from Russia.
“After examining the situation I have decided, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, not to extend the unilateral ceasefire,” the 48-year-old said from his office.
“The separatists’ leaders have demonstrated their unwillingness and inability to control the actions of the terrorist units and marauding gangs under their control,” he said.
Ukrainian Parliament Speaker Oleksandr Turchynov told a morning session of parliament yesterday that the “active phase” of the military operation had already resumed.
“Our armed forces are attacking the terrorists’ bases and strongholds,” Turchynov said.
Russia expressed regret over Ukraine’s decision.
Poroshenko’s last-minute decision not to extend a ceasefire “causes deep regret,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said, blaming unidentified outside forces for scuppering the peace talks.
“We once again urge [partners] to stop using Ukraine as a bargaining chip in geopolitical games,” it said, noting that calls to clamp down on protests with force were “criminal.”
Both separatist fighters and pro-Kiev leaders reported a series of new skirmishes breaking out on yesterday morning across the eastern rustbelt — home to seven million mostly Russian speakers.
The regional administration of Donetsk -- which has declared its allegiance to Moscow along with the neighboring border province of Lugansk — said four civilians were killed in a rebel attack on a bus near the town of Kramatorsk.
Western-backed Hromadske TV in Kiev said its journalist and cameraman were abducted in the Lugansk region. Sporadic exchanges of fire were also reported in the early morning in the center of the million-strong city of Donetsk.
Poroshenko’s decision came just hours after the leaders of France and Germany joined him on a conference call to Russian President Vladimir Putin — the third such conversation in five days.
French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were in rare agreement with Putin that Poroshenko should extend the truce to give indirect talks between separatist commanders and Kiev a chance.
However, the contacts have mostly failed to halt 11 weeks of fighting that have killed more than 450 people and displaced tens of thousands across Ukraine’s economically vital industrial regions of Lugansk and Donetsk.
Poroshenko told the three leaders that insurgents had attacked Ukrainian positions more that 100 times during the truce.
The separatists likewise accuse government forces of having continued to shell the dozen cities and towns under their control during the official spell in hostilities.
“Calls for the militias to lay down their arms can be discussed only after the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces,” the Lugansk region’s self-declared prime minister Vasyl Nikitin told Russia’s Interfax news agency.
Poroshenko had come under extreme pressure from Ukrainian nationalists to relaunch the offensive and meet his May 25 election promise to reunite Ukraine.
However, Poroshenko insisted in his address to the nation that he was not abandoning his earlier peace plan altogether.
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