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Putin Calls For Safe Corridor As Kyiv Confirms Separatists Take Parts Of Debaltseve

February 17, 2015

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called on pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine to allow Ukranian troops safe passage out of the encircled town of Debaltseve.

Speaking in Budapest on February 17, Putin said Kyiv should not prevent Ukrainian troops from laying down their weapons -- a demand that separatists have given as a precondition for letting Ukrainian troops safely evacuate Debaltseve.

He said he was convinced that a 'majority of Ukrainian troops' have 'no desire' to fight in what he called a 'fratricidal war.'

Putin also suggested, without naming any specific countries, that the West already is supplying weapons to Ukrainian government forces, but said 'the end result will be exactly what it is today. It is inevitable.'

Separatists said on February 17 that they seized most of Debaltseve and had surrounded the remaining government troops there.

But a Ukrainian military spokesman denied that claim, describing the situation in Debaltseve as 'extremely complex.'

Kyiv did confirm that part of Debaltseve had fallen to the separatists, but said fighting was continuing -- dashing hopes that a new cease-fire deal would bring peace.

The deputy head of Ukraine's presidential administration, Valeriy Chaly, said on February 17 'the hopes of the world for peace are being destroyed' by the battle.

Ukraine's Defense Ministry said some government troops were taken prisoner by separatists in Debaltseve, but denied claims by Russian media that a large number of soldiers were captured.

The ministry said those reports were 'fake' and were aimed at creating panic among government forces that remain in Debaltseve.

The Russian-backed separatists also said on February 17 that they had seized most of Debaltseve from government forces.

But a Ukrainian military spokesman denied that claim, describing the situation in Debaltseve as 'extremely complex.'

The developments come after both sides failed to begin pulling back heavy weapons from the front lines in what was supposed to be the second phase of a cease-fire deal that came into effect on February 15.

The withdrawal of tanks, artillery, and rockets was supposed to begin on February 17 under the terms of a cease-fire agreement signed last week in Minsk.

The pull-back of heavy weapons was meant to be completed within two weeks, creating a buffer zone stretching along 140 kilometers of frontline territory.

In other parts of eastern Ukraine, the truce had been broadly respected since February 15.

But a battle has continued in varying intensity during the past two weeks at Debaltseve, which lies within a narrow strip of territory still under nominal Ukrainian government control in the eastern region of Donetsk.

Both sides have said they would not begin pulling back heavy weapons because of the battle.

On February 16, the separatists said they would open a safe corridor for Ukrainian forces out of Debaltseve on condition that they surrender the territory and lay down their weapons.

That offer has been rejected by the Ukrainian military, with spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov saying government troops would not leave because the town is within territory under Ukrainian control in accordance with the February 12 Minsk cease-fire deal.

Earlier on February 17, Ukraine's military said the separatists had launched 15 attacks overnight against its positions around Debaltseve.

Kyiv said five soldiers were killed in that fighting and 14 wounded, most of them near Debaltseve, during the previous 24 hours.

The separatists on February 17 accused Ukrainian government forces of breaching the cease-fire agreement 17 times in the Donetsk region during the previous 24 hours.

They accused Ukrainian forces of shelling Donetsk airport.

Fighting was also reported near the southern port city of Mariupol on February 17.

In Berlin, a German government spokesman said the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Germany agreed on 'concrete measures' to allow observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor the shaky cease-fire.

Steffen Seibert said the measures were agreed late on February 16.

Seibert said Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to 'exercise his influence on the separatists to enforce the cease-fire.'

In Washington, a State Department spokeswoman said the United States was 'gravely concerned by the deteriorating situation in and around Debaltseve.'

Jen Psaki called on 'Russia and the separatists it backs to halt all attacks immediately' and engage with the OSCE monitoring mission to implement the cease-fire.

The truce deal had been negotiated by Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France to put an end to the conflict that has claimed nearly 5,500 lives during the past 10 months.

Meanwhile, further EU sanctions against Russia have gone into effect.

The EU added Russian defense officials -- along with 15 separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk -- to its travel-ban and asset-freeze blacklist for 'undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence of Ukraine.'

Those added to the sanctions list include Russian First Deputy Defense Minister Arkady Bakhin and Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov, as well as the deputy chief of the Russian general staff of the armed forces, Andrei Kartapolov.

The Public Movement Novorossiya is among the entities listed together with eight separatist fighting units, including the Cossack National Guard.

The EU sanctions list now includes 151 individuals and 37 entities in Ukraine and Russia.

Moscow says the EU had contradicted 'common sense' by imposing new sanctions just a day after the start of the cease-fire deal.

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said Moscow will respond 'adequately' to the expanded sanctions.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, and Interfax

Source: separatist-seize-territory/26854898.html

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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