Sun, Sep 07, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Ukraine clings to nascent truce

PUTIN’S PEACE:Despite failing to reunify his shredded country, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko acceded to a peace plan wrought by Russian President Vladimir Putin

AFP, KIEV

A burned tank said by locals to belong to Ukrainian forces lies wrecked outside the village of Mnogopolye, southeast from Donetsk, Ukraine, on Friday.

Photo: Reuters

Ukraine and pro-Kremlin insurgents appeared to be observing a truce yesterday that could stem five months of bloodshed, but which still failed to head off fresh Western sanctions against Russia and is unlikely to quell the separatist drive in the east.

The 12-point pact signed on Friday in the Belarussian capital, Minsk, is the first to be backed by both the Kremlin and Kiev since bands of Russian-speaking militias seized a string of government buildings across Ukraine’s industrial heartland in early April.

However, highly skeptical Western leaders nonetheless decided to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for his efforts to support the rebels by beefing up sanctions on Moscow’s most crucial state firms.

“The only reason that we’re seeing this ceasefire at this moment is because of both the sanctions that have already been applied and the threat of further sanctions,” US President Barack Obama said.

However, with the rebels winning notable gains in recent days and Russia outwardly defiant over the impact of earlier sanctions, there was little sign the ceasefire would put an end to the eastern insurgency.

The closely coordinated steps by Washington and the EU target Russia’s cash-generating energy and defense sectors while taking aim at the overall economy by limiting Moscow’s ability to raise funds in the West.

Obama said the measures were needed to ensure Russian “follow-through” on the peace plan.

EU diplomats said their “agreement in principle on new sanctions” would be officially implemented in writing tomorrow.

Meanwhile, NATO also approved a “spearhead” force of several thousand soldiers who would maintain a “continuous” presence in eastern European nations that view Putin’s intentions with dread.

“This decision sends a clear message — NATO protects all allies at all times,” outgoing NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at the conclusion of a two-day summit in Wales.

The Kremlin accuses NATO of concocting evidence about Russia’s involvement as pretext for expanding its own presence along Russia’s western frontier.

Reporters near the latest eastern Ukrainian hotspots said that guns that had been blazing in the early morning fell silent when both sides ordered a halt to fire on Friday at 3pm GMT.

The peace blueprint — its initial terms unveiled by Putin this week after telephone talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko — could leave separatists in effective control of a region that accounts for one-sixth of Ukraine’s population and a quarter of its exports.

It was drawn up during a surge in tensions as the rebels launched a lightning counteroffensive that saw a dramatic reversal of fortunes for the Ukrainian army.

NATO says the rebels were bolstered by heavily-armed elite forces from Russia.

The deal brokered by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe European security body was to see both sides start pulling back their units from major flashpoints and exchanging prisoners yesterday. Russia was also to be allowed to supply humanitarian aid that Kiev had previously opposed out of fear the convoys could be used to smuggle arms.

However, the deal leaves Poroshenko exposed to charges of signing off on his government’s surrender and failing on his May election promise to reunify the nation of 45 million.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said the agreement required US and EU backing because Kiev could “not manage with Russia on our own.”

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