Rebels and Russian troops ‘flout ceasefire agreement’

UKRAINe’s military has accused separatists and Russian troops of continuing to shoot at government forces despite a ceasefire and said Kiev would not go ahead with setting up a proposed buffer zone until the truce violations stopped.

A young man with a Ukrainian flag walks defiantly past riot police in Moscow. Picture: Reuters
A young man with a Ukrainian flag walks defiantly past riot police in Moscow. Picture: Reuters

The country’s warring sides agreed on Friday to withdraw artillery and other heavy weapons to the outer limits of a 19-mile buffer zone, building on the ceasefire in the conflict in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 3,000 people.

However, Ukraine’s military spokesman, Andriy Lysenko, said yesterday that the pro-Russian separatists and Russian troops were continuing to target the positions of government forces.

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“In the last 24 hours we have lost two Ukrainian soldiers, eight have been wounded,” Mr Lysenko said.

Asked about the buffer zone, he said: “One of the main points of the agreement is the ceasefire, then other points follow.

“At the moment, the first point has not been fulfilled, so we are not talking about the other points. If there is to be a withdrawal of forces, then it should be synchronised together with the withdrawal of Russian forces.”

Mr Lysenko said separatists had carried out a further attack on the government-held international airport at Donetsk, the east’s main industrial hub. The rebels hold the city itself.

He said 40 separatist fighters had been killed in “defensive” fire by Ukrainian forces. There was no independent confirmation of this figure.

Mr Lysenko’s comments echoed those of Nato’s top military commander, US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, who said on Saturday that fighting was continuing in Ukraine and that the truce was a ceasefire “in name only”.

“The situation in Ukraine is not good right now,” Gen Breedlove said, speaking in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius following a meeting of chiefs of defence of Nato countries.

“Basically, we have a ceasefire in name only.

“The number of events, and the number of rounds fired, and the artillery used across the past few days, match some of the pre-ceasefire levels.

“The ceasefire is still there in name, but what is happening on the ground is quite a different story.”

Donetsk was rocked by blasts on Saturday and a plant producing industrial explosives and military munitions appeared to have been hit.

The creation of a buffer zone was decided on Friday in a nine-point memorandum signed by the separatists and envoys from Moscow and Kiev.

The comments from Kiev and Nato underline the fragility of the ceasefire, which Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko reluctantly called after his country’s forces suffered battlefield reverses that they ascribed to the direct intervention of Russian troops.

Moscow denies sending troops to Ukraine or arming the rebels, despite what Kiev and western governments say is overwhelming evidence of direct Russian involvement.