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‘Terrorists and bandits’ will be punished, vows Ukraine’s Poroshenko

AFP

Ukraine's president-elect Petro Poroshenko vowed to punish "terrorists and bandits" Friday after pro-Russian rebels downed an army helicopter in eastern Ukraine, killing 12 troops – including a senior general.

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"We have to do everything we can to ensure no more Ukrainians die at the hands of terrorists and bandits. These criminal acts by the enemies of the Ukrainian people will not go unpunished," Ukrainian news agencies quoted Poroshenko as saying.

The newly-elected president’s comments followed Thursday’s downing of a Mil Mi-8 helicopter gunship with a sophisticated surface-to-air missile near the separatist stronghold of Slaviansk. The attack killed 12 Ukrainian troops, including top military official, Major General Serhiy Kulchytsky.

Speaking to reporters in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev Friday, Mykhailo Koval, the country’s acting defence minister, said the military would press ahead with the offensive in eastern Ukraine. "Our given task is to bring peace and order to the region," said Koval.

Thursday’s incident was the second-deadliest since Ukraine launched what it calls “the active phase of anti-terror operations” a few weeks ago. On May 22, 18 soldiers were killed in heavy fighting in the eastern Donetsk region.

“That incident was more deadly. But in a sense this latest disaster is worse both in terms of military impact, as well as prestige and symbolism,” said FRANCE 24’s Armen Georgian, reporting from Kiev Friday.

“Gen. Serhiy Kulchytsky, who was killed on board the helicopter, had a long career in the Ukrainian army and before that, in the Soviet army. He was a trainer to the National Guard and clearly that’s something the Ukrainian army needs as this very troubled operation continues in the east,” explained Georgian.

Rhetoric in Kiev, disaster in the east

Poroshenko’s statement came just days after the billionaire chocolate-magnate won the country’s first presidential poll since the former pro-Russian government was elected, sparking a major crisis in this east European nation.

Poroshenko is set to take office on June 7 and his response to Thursday’s disaster is being closely watched from Washington to Moscow.

Reporting from Kiev, FRANCE 24’s Georgian noted that, “Poroshenko has a very small grace period before his inauguration on June 7. After that, full responsibility for the failings in military operations will rest on him.”

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has intensified in recent days with heavy fighting at Donetsk’s international airport. Rebel leaders say more than 100 fighters, many of them Russian citizens, were killed before rebels lost control of the airport to Ukrainian troops on Monday.

Speaking to FRANCE 24 shortly after Thursday’s helicopter downing, a senior Ukrainian intelligence official, who declined to be named, admitted that there were serious problems confronting the country’s security services.

Firstly, there was a lack of equipment, with Ukrainian soldiers being sent to battle without the requisite weapons and body armour. Secondly, there were planning problems with troops being dispatched to hot spots without the requisite back-up units. Thirdly – and more crucially – there was a problem of intelligence, since security services were not getting enough information from the local population in the eastern part of the country, according to the Ukrainian security source.

The list of challenges confronting the new administration was daunting, Georgian noted. “It’s hard to see how those factors can be turned around whatever the rhetoric is from politicians in Kiev,” he said.

 

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