Ukraine rejects talks with rebels until they disarm

Ukraine rejects talks with rebels until they disarm

Tuesday, July 8, 2014 10:52 am

by Stephane ORJOLLET and Dmitry ZAKS in Kiev

DONETSK (AFP) – Ukraine on Tuesday brushed off strong European pressure as it rejected talks with pro-Russian rebels on a truce to halt a bloody insurgency convulsing the ex-Soviet nation until they laid down their arms.

The unconditional stance reflected a new confidence in Kiev that it was on the verge of quashing a rebellion it views as Moscow’s retribution for the February ouster of a Kremlin-backed leader and the decision to pursue a historic alliance with the West.

But it was also bound to both frustrate EU leaders pushing for a diplomatic solution to the continent’s worst crisis in decades, and Kremlin efforts to force Kiev to make compromises that would preserve the Russian-speaking east’s ties to Moscow.

“Now, any negotiations are possible only after the rebels completely lay down their arms,” Defence Minister Valeriy Geletey said in a statement.

Ukrainian forces have scored a string of surprise military successes since the weekend that forced most of the militias to retreat to the sprawling eastern industrial hubs of Donetsk and Lugansk — both capitals of their own “People’s Republics”.

President Petro Poroshenko has ordered his troops to blockade the insurgents inside the cities and cut them off from any further arms supplies.

But it was not immediately clear how the new pro-Western leader intended to force the militias to give up their three-month campaign to join Russian rule.

Germany and France have been spearheading a European push to sit the two sides down for negotiations that could agree the terms of a new truce.

Poroshenko cancelled a 10-day ceasefire on July 1 because of uninterrupted rebel attacks that claimed the lives of more than 20 Ukrainian troops.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Monday that “even if the situation in eastern Ukraine has shifted in favour of the Ukrainian security forces, there will be no purely military resolution of the conflict”.

But a round of indirect talks about a ceasefire brokered by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Kiev on Sunday produced no tangible result.

Presidents Francois Hollande and Barack Obama on Monday also noted in a statement released by Paris that “a durable solution to the crisis in Ukraine can only be a political one.”

– US defends eastern campaign –

But Washington has consistently backed the stepped up campaign being waged by Ukrainian troops and irregular forces since Poroshenko’s post-May 25 election promise to quickly quash an uprising that has cost nearly 500 lives.

The United States views Ukraine’s territorial integrity as vital to European security and important to halting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s seeming ambition to resurrect a tsarist or post-Soviet empire.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki reiterated on Monday that “the government of Ukraine is defending the country of Ukraine, and I think they have every right to do that, as does the international community.”

Poroshenko on Tuesday dismissed the man who had headed Kiev’s self-proclaimed “anti-terrorist operation” since its launch on April 13 and replaced him with Vasyl Grytsak — a career interior ministry offer who once helped computerise Ukraine’s passport system.

The reshuffle was one of several in the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) and appeared to represent an attempt by Poroshenko to place trustees in top positions rather than any change in tactic in the campaign.

– ‘Tough choice’ for Putin –

Germany’s Berenberg Bank economist Holger Schmieding said Putin now faced a tough choice between dealing a blow to Russia’s economy by further boosting support for the rebels or seeing his own popularity suffer by taking no action at all.

“He may either have to step up his support for the pro-Russian insurgents who are now on the defensive; or he may be seen as letting Ukraine advance on the ground in Donbass,” Schmieding wrote in reference to the eastern Lugansk and Donetsk regions.

“The former could trigger more serious sanctions and further capital flight from Russia. The latter could hurt his popularity and his ‘strong man’ image in Russia where (he) had whipped up nationalist sentiment in the last five months.”

Join The Conversation

What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.