Ukraine to ‘re-examine’ peace plan with rebels
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Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko threatened to tear up a peace plan with pro-Russian separatist rebels Monday after they defied Kiev and held elections intended to demonstrate their independence.
“These pseudo-elections are a gross violation” of a September truce deal, he said in an address to the nation.
Poroshenko said he and security chiefs would “re-examine” Kiev’s commitments to the truce deal on Tuesday, including “abolition” of a key element in the truce that offered separatists autonomy within Ukraine’s existing borders.
The elections held Sunday were meant to lend legitimacy to two unrecognised statelets that rebels backed by Moscow have carved out in industrial eastern Ukraine during seven months of war.
Russia, which denies Western accusations that its troops are actually taking part in the fighting, recognised the elections. European powers blasted Moscow’s support for what they said were illegitimate polls.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s top spokesman described as “incomprehensible” Moscow’s endorsement of the vote in which the Kremlin-backed candidates faced no serious competition and warned this would “further aggravate the crisis.”
NATO’s supreme allied commander, US General Philip Breedlove, said Washington opposed the elections, which he called “not helpful.” He warned of a “revanchist Russia” whose recent ramping up of military flights into European airspace was causing the Western military alliance concern.
Russian defiance, sanctions
Russia, which risks an intensifying of already punishing EU and US sanctions, ignored Western appeals not to recognise the rebel vote and came out saying it “respected” the outcome of the poll that the Ukrainian government branded an illegal “farce.”
“Those elected have received a mandate to resolve the practical issues of re-establishing normal life in the region,” Moscow’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister piled further pressure on Kiev by demanding it call a definitive end to military operations in the east and talk to the rebels on equal terms.
“This work can bring results only on condition of equal dialogue based on mutual respect, with Kiev renouncing military operations and the notorious ‘anti-terror operation’,” Grigory Karasin told state news agency TASS.
French President Francois Hollande said sanctions against Russia are “essential..., but they should not be the sole response.
“The objective is to convince Moscow and the separatists to renounce escalation and to return to a dialogue.”
The fear in Ukraine now is that the vote could finally spell the end of the already battered September ceasefire.
AFP journalists in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk reported heavy shelling between government and rebel forces after a day’s lull around the ruins of the city’s disputed international airport.
Fuelling fears that rebels could be readying a fresh offensive, Kiev on Monday repeated claims that it was seeing “intensive” movements of troops and weapons across the frontier.
International observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe which has been tasked with monitoring the ceasefire said that an unmanned drone used as part of their mission was shot at from rebel territory Sunday, but not hit.
The separatist uprisings in a corner of Ukraine with long-held pro-Russian leanings started shortly after Russian troops invaded and annexed Crimea, a southern Ukrainian region, in March.
Russia justified that dramatic seizure of its neighbour’s territory by saying it needed to protect ethnic Russians from a surge of Ukrainian nationalism during the previous month’s pro-Western revolution in the capital Kiev.
In the east, Russia says it only provides political and humanitarian aid to the rebels, despite allegations it has sent in weapons and even its own army to back up the insurgency.
Segments of the forces arrayed against Ukraine’s soldiers appear to be as heavily armed and well organised as a fully equipped regular army and long columns of military trucks have frequently been seen in the area of the Ukraine-Russia border.
Rebel leaders confirmed
Under the September truce, whose signatories included Russia, both sides were meant to cease fire as the start of a process leading to autonomy for the pro-Russian areas.
Emboldened by the staging of their vote, rebel leaders blamed Kiev for the tension.
“Ukraine does not want peace, as it claims. Obviously it is playing a double game,” the newly elected president of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Alexander Zakharchenko, told journalists.
Zakharchenko, already the undisputed commander in the city of Donetsk, took 75 percent of the roughly one million votes cast, according to final results released by rebel election officials.
The 38-year-old former electrician is set to be officially inaugurated as the rebel republic’s leader Tuesday.
In neighbouring Lugansk region, current insurgent supremo Igor Plotnitsky, a former Soviet army officer, picked up some 63 percent, the rebels said.