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Kyiv Officials: 11 Troops Killed Since Minsk Deal

by Mary Alice Salinas February 13, 2015

Ukraine's military said Friday that 11 soldiers had been killed and 40 wounded in fighting in eastern Ukraine in the past day, despite a cease-fire deal that was reached Thursday but is not yet in effect.

Military officials said the fighting was particularly intense around Debaltseve, a key transport hub that has been hotly contested in recent days.

Also Friday, the Donetsk regional administration reported that two people were killed, including a child, and five others were injured when a shell hit a school in the government-controlled town of Artemivsk. Local officials blamed rebels for the attack.

Thursday's agreement was signed by representatives of Ukraine's government, the Russia-backed separatists, the Russian government and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe after 16 hours of talks in Minsk, Belarus.

The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France released a statement after the talks declaring support for the accord.

The 13-point agreement calls for a cease-fire, set to begin Sunday; the withdrawal of heavy weapons by both sides; a Ukrainian pullback from the current line of contact; a withdrawal by Russian-backed separatists to a line agreed upon in a Minsk deal reached in September; and an exchange of prisoners.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised the efforts of the four leaders to end the pro-Russia uprising in eastern Ukraine, saying he expected the truce deal to be honored by all parties.

French President Francois Hollande said the deal, if honored, amounted to a 'comprehensive political solution,' while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it offered 'a glimmer of hope.' She also said 'we have no illusions' and that 'much work' remained to establish a lasting peace.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the parties 'managed to agree on the main issues,' including the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the conflict area.

'A potentially significant step'

The United States consulted with its allies but did not participate in the Minsk summit. The White House called the deal 'a potentially significant step toward a peaceful' end to the conflict and said the 'true test' of the accord 'will be in its full and unambiguous implementation, including the durable end of hostilities and the restoration of Ukrainian control over its border with Russia.'

The United States noted, however, that Russia was sending large amounts of military supplies and equipment to pro-Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine.

"We are very concerned about continued fighting along and beyond the line of contact, including in heavily populated civilian areas and reports of additional resupplies of tanks and missile systems coming across the border from Russia in the past few days," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Friday.

"The Russian military has deployed a large amount of artillery and multiple rocket launcher systems around Debaltseve, where it is shelling Ukrainian positions," Psaki said. She added the U.S. had obtained its own information. "We are confident these are Russian military, not separatist systems. The Russian military also has air-defense systems deployed near Debaltseve. We are also confident these are Russian military, not separatist systems."

The U.S. said it also had evidence that Russian units along the border with Ukraine were preparing a large shipment of supplies meant for pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.

"This is clearly not in the spirit of the week's agreement," Psaki said. She called on all sides to show restraint ahead of the cease-fire, set to begin at 12.01 a.m. Sunday. "Actions, not words, are what will determine whether the agreement will produce what it's suppose to produce."

For its part, Russia has denied sending troops or weapons across the border to aid in the fighting, which has killed at least 5,400 people and wounded thousands more since separatists launched their uprising 10 months ago. Moscow has repeatedly claimed that Russian troops seen fighting alongside rebels are volunteers.

President Barack Obama said last week that he would await the outcome of the summit before deciding whether to supply Ukraine with defensive weaponry to offset the cross-border flow of Russian military hardware and fighters. Analysts said a decision on such weaponry was not likely before the effectiveness of the truce deal could be fully evaluated.

G7 reacts to Minsk II

Leaders of the G7 welcomed the February 12 Minsk peace deal as offering "a way forward" to settling the conflict in eastern Ukraine, but expressed concern over "Russian-backed separatist militias … operating beyond the line of contact agreed upon in the Minsk agreements of September 2014.

In a statement issued Friday, the G7 called on all parties to refrain from actions in the coming days that would hinder the start of the cease-fire. It warned violators of the latest Minsk deal about "appropriate measures" and intensified "costs" that could follow. The statement did not specify what these would entail.

The group, joined in the statement by the president of the European Council and the president of the European Commission, also reiterated its condemnation of Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea as "illegal" and "in violation of international law."

Analysts voicing caution about the latest Minsk deal noted that it set no deadline for the withdrawal of Russian forces, weapons and equipment from Ukraine, and did not set a timetable for Ukraine to regain control of its eastern border.

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko stressed Thursday that the Ukrainian side did not agree to grant 'autonomy' to the rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine and made no concessions in its opposition to the country's 'federalization' — a demand Moscow has repeatedly made.



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