Ukraine's Poroshenko proposes unilateral ceasefire in east Ukraine
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Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will order a unilateral ceasefire to allow pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country the chance to lay down their weapons or leave the country, he announced Wednesday.
Poroshenko said that the ceasefire would be the first step in a peace plan that he has proposed to de-escalate the conflict.
“The plan will begin with my order for a unilateral cease-fire,” Poroshenko was quoted as saying.
He added that, “shortly afterward, the plan will receive support from the other participants”.
Poroshenko took a further step toward relieving tensions with Russia by deciding to replace acting Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya, a widely disliked figure in Moscow, with Pavlo Klimkin, a pro-European diplomat now serving as ambassador to Germany.
Deshchytsya became embroiled in controversy at the weekend when he called Putin "a prick" while trying to restrain protesters who attacked Moscow's embassy compound in Kiev.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded by saying that he had no intention of speaking to Deshchytsya again.
Poroshenko held talks Tuesday on a possible ceasefire in separatist east Ukraine with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The two leaders also discussed the recent deaths of two members of a Russian TV crew in the restive region, which ratcheted up already fraught relations between Moscow and Kiev.
TV crew death sparks Kremlin fury
Moscow had responded furiously to the death of the TV crew members, accusing Kiev of a campaign of "terror" and demanding an investigation.
Poroshenko assured Putin that an investigation would be launched into their deaths and vowed to take the necessary measures to protect reporters covering the conflict, the Kremlin said.
Igor Kornelyuk, a reporter with Russia's VGTRK media group, sustained severe stomach wounds when he was hit by shrapnel after being caught in an attack by Ukrainian forces in the Russian border region.
"He was unconscious when he arrived and died on his way to the operating room," Fedir Solyanyk, chief doctor at the main hospital in the rebel stronghold city of Lugansk, told AFP by telephone.
VGTRK sound technician Anton Voloshin died in the same attack.
The United Nations Security Council in a statement called for a probe into the deaths of the Russian TV crew, expressing concern about "reported cases of detention and harassment of journalists covering the crisis in Ukraine".
Russia's Investigative Committee said it had opened a probe into their deaths and the foreign ministry demanded that Ukraine follow suit, accusing the Kiev authorities in a statement of "unleashing veritable terror against journalists from Russia".
Reporters Without Borders said the violence affecting journalists in Ukraine had reached "unprecedented levels" and called for a "full and impartial investigation" into the deaths.
Italian photographer Andrea Rocchelli and his Russian assistant Andrei Mironov were killed outside Slaviansk in the neighbouring Donetsk region in late May.
Russian gas cut
The Kremlin, which denies fomenting the unrest in the east, on Monday cut off gas supplies in a move Kiev called "another stage of Russia's aggression against the Ukrainian state".
Russia imposed the cut after Ukraine balked at making a $1.9 billion (€1.4 billion) debt payment in protest at Moscow's decision to nearly double Kiev's rates in the wake of the February ouster of a Kremlin-backed president.
Weeks of acrimonious debt and price negotiations broke up on Monday, with Russia walking away from a compromise solution proposed in Kiev by the European Union's energy commissioner.
Kiev blamed the explosion of a vital pipeline used to transport Siberian gas to Europe -- which erupted in a spectacular fireball on Tuesday -- on Russian "sabotage".
Acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov -- an outspoken official who has made a recent series of unsubstantiated claims -- said on Tuesday that the explosion at the Trans-Siberian Pipeline Russian may have been an act of "terrorism".
"We are considering several versions of events, including the main one -- an act of terrorism," Avakov said in a statement.
"The pipeline's sabotage... is an another attempt by Russia to discredit Ukraine as a partner in the gas sector."
Ukraine receives half its gas from Russia and transports 15 percent of the fuel consumed in Europe -- a dependence that has not diminished despite similar supply disruptions in 2006 and 2009.
A gas shortage is not expected to be felt in either Ukraine or Europe for several months.
Ukraine has bolstered its underground storage volumes and analysts believe that Europe's own reserves are nearly full.
Yet Kiev is seeking to devise a longer-term solution that would eliminate a need to maintain an alliance with Russia to secure gas prices it can afford.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk said Tuesday that a team headed by Naftogaz state energy firm chief Andriy Kobolev and Energy Minister Yuriy Prodan was flying to Budapest to negotiate "reverse-flow" deliveries along pipelines now used for transporting Russian gas westward.
European utilities have for the most part refused to compromise their relations with Russia's energy giant Gazprom by selling its own gas back to Ukraine at a price lower than that imposed on Kiev by Moscow.
European companies "do not have the right to do that," Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller said.
But EU Energy Commission spokeswoman Sabine Berger said such "reverse-flow" deliveries were "legally perfectly sound".
The gas cut has further exacerbated tensions with Kiev after Moscow's March seizure of Crimea and move to mass troops on its border with Ukraine.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
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