Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday voiced support for a unilateral ceasefire in Ukraine, but said that without “practical action” the peace plan for the east would not be viable.
“Vladimir Putin supports the decision of the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko to cease fire in the southeast of Ukraine, as well his stated intentions to take a number of concrete steps to achieve a peaceful settlement,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
“However, the Russian head of state drew attention to the fact that the proposed plan, without practical action aimed at the beginning of the negotiation process, will not be viable and realistic.”
The Ukrainian forces’ seven-day ceasefire began Friday night, as part of Poroshenko’s plan to end a rebel insurgency in the east of the country.
Without referring to any of the sides involved in the conflict, the Kremlin said that Putin considers it unacceptable that after the ceasefire order there were sounds of explosions and ammunition reaching Russian territory from Ukraine.
He also said the peace plan should not be an ultimatum to the militias.
“The opportunity which opens with the ceasefire should be used to start meaningful negotiations and political compromise between the opposing sides in eastern Ukraine,” the Kremlin cited Putin as saying.
The qualified Russian backing for Poroshenko’s effort to halt the conflict was another in a series of shifting Kremlin moves and statements that have drawn into question Moscow’s exact level of commitment to de-escalating the conflict.
Putin’s conciliatory words came on the same day he ordered large-scale military exercises that NATO criticised as likely to raise tensions. US officials also accused Russian troops of moving back into positions near the border with Ukraine’s troubled east.
Ukrainian troops have struggled to suppress separatists who have seized buildings and declared independence in the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions near the border with Russia.
Ukraine and the United States have both accused Russia of supporting the insurgency, including by permitting tanks to cross the border and wind up in the rebels’ arsenal.
Russia counters that it is not supporting the rebels, saying that Russians who have joined the fighting are doing so as private citizens.
US and European leaders have called on Russia to play a constructive role in settling the conflict and halt what they say is support for the rebels. The US and European Union have imposed financial sanctions on specific Russian officials but have so far held off on targeting entire economic sectors.
It remains unclear whether Russia can or will influence the pro-Russian fighters to de-escalate the conflict. Putin has consulted with Poroshenko several times by phone on the Ukraine ceasefire initiative, but earlier Russian statements on the peace plan had criticised it sharply as an “ultimatum” seeking to pressure rebels to disarm.
Russian troops on combat alert
The more open-minded tone of the latest Kremlin statement contrasted with Putin’s move Saturday to order military forces in central Russia to go on combat alert and to launch an exercise for airborne troops.
The 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 and involves 65,000 troops, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said.
NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu on Saturday lamented Moscow’s military exercises, saying that “it can be seen as a further escalation of the crisis with Ukraine”.
Pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s embattled east have dismissed the ceasefire as fake – and continued to shoot at Ukraine border positions after the truce began.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said six troops were wounded in attacks on border posts shortly before the truce’s start, while three others were wounded in later mortar and sniper attacks on two posts.
Nonetheless, no large-scale fighting was reported on Saturday.
‘No sign of ceasefire’
In Donetsk, a group of armed men gathered in the central square to take a military oath to the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.
Pavel Gubarev, who describes himself as governor of the breakaway republic, said there was no sign of any ceasefire near Slaviansk, scene of serious clashes for several months.
“There is no ceasefire over there,” Gubarev said. “There is shooting all the time, and this cease-fire that Poroshenko is talking about is just fake. The Ukrainian forces are either not under his control, or he is just a liar.”
Tension between Russia and Ukraine escalated sharply in February when protests in favor of closer ties with the European Union drove pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich from power. Russia denounced the events as a coup and annexed Ukraine’s mostly Russian-speaking Crimea region. Rebellion in the eastern regions broke out shortly afterward, with Ukraine accusing Russia of supporting it.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-06-21