Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday ordered military forces in central Russia on combat alert as well as a drill of airborne troops, a day after Ukraine ordered a ceasefire with pro-Russian rebels.
NATO said earlier this week that Russia has resumed a military build-up on the border with Ukraine where pro-Russian separatists have been fighting government forces for weeks in a conflict that has left approximately 300 people dead and displaced over 34,000.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ordered his forces to cease fire Friday and halt military operations for a week, the first step in a peace plan he hopes will end the fighting.
The Kremlin promptly dismissed the plan, saying it lacked any firm offer to open talks with insurgents and that it was, "not an invitation to peace and negotiations but an ultimatum for the militias in the southeast of Ukraine to give up their weapons".
The pro-Russian separatists backed The Kremlin's position, with Valeriy Bolotov of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People's Republic warning that "no one will lay down their arms until there is a full troop withdrawal from our land".
Ukraine ready to ‘fight back’
Poroshenko himself stressed that the order for Ukrainian soldiers to halt fire, "does not mean that we will not fight back against aggression toward our troops."
US President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had welcomed the unilateral ceasefire announcement by Poroshenko, while warning of further possible steps to "impose costs on Russia" if Moscow fails to de-escalate the situation, the White House said.
Russia’s combat alert in the central military district, which encompasses the Volga region and the Ural mountains but not western Russia, will last until next Saturday, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said, quoted by Russian state news agencies.
Some 65,000 troops will take part in military drills accompanying the combat alert, according to head of Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov, including several thousand troops of an airborne division which will be moved from a city 200 kilometres (124 miles) east of Moscow where they are stationed to the Ural mountains.
Russia’s combat alert was ordered on the first day of the ceasefire in Ukraine, which was nonetheless marked by more fighting along the border.
The Ukrainian Border Guard Service reported overnight attacks on two border posts in the Donetsk region, which left three troops injured, hours after the cease-fire was announced. One of the posts, Vyselky, was attacked with mortar and sniper fire for half an hour, the border guards said.
Ukraine’s Defence Ministry reported two attacks on the quarters of a missile unit in the village of Avdiyivka. Kiev said men armed with automatic rifles and grenade launchers attacked the base at 11 pm, one hour after the cease-fire was announced, prompting the army to respond. The rebels left in the morning, the defence ministry said.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)
Date created : 2014-06-21