Kyiv Calls For UN Peacekeepers After Rebel Take Key Town
February 18, 2015
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has called for European peacekeepers to enforce a shaky cease-fire deal in east Ukraine after a key town fell to pro-Russian rebels.
Some 2,500 government troops retreated from Debaltseve -- a strategic railway hub linking the main separatist-held cities of Donetsk and Lugansk -- after rebels ignored a truce and launched a devastating assault to seize control of the town.
Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council on February 18 approved a decision to invite UN-mandated peacekeepers into the country to monitor the front line with the rebels.
Poroshenko told the council, 'We see the best format would be a police mission from the European Union. We are sure this would be the most effective and best guarantee for security.'
Poroshenko said six soldiers were killed and more than 100 injured in what he earlier described as 'a planned and organized withdrawal' from Debaltseve.
But exhausted troops seen arriving in the neighbouring town of Artemivsk on tanks and other vehicles, or on foot, contested that characterization.
One soldier told French news agency AFP, 'We didn't hear anything about an order to pull out. We only found out about it when our heavy armour started leaving.'
Correspondents saw the bodies of at least 13 soldiers at the local morgue after days of ferocious street-to-street battles that had taken place in the town since the rebels stormed it on February 17.
Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of sending in troops and weapons to spearhead the assault on Debaltseve. Moscow denies the claims.
A spokesman for the rebels' military, Eduard Basurin, said the town was 'completely under the control' of the separatists.
Basurin claimed more than 300 government soldiers had been taken prisoner. Ukrainian officials admitted that some troops had fallen into rebel hands but would not say how many.
Amnesty International has expressed concern about the treatment of the prisoners, citing evidence of brutality by both sides towards captives.
The loss left a cease-fire brokered last week in Minsk by Germany and France in tatters.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that he was 'deeply concerned' by the situation around Debaltseve and that 'the refusal of the separatists to respect the cease-fire' threatened the agreement.
Stoltenberg also said "Russian forces, artillery, and air defense units as well as command and control elements are still active in Ukraine."
He urged Russia to end its support for the separatists and withdraw its forces and military equipment from eastern Ukraine.
The White House said on February 18 that Russia has failed to live up to terms of the deal and is "at risk of greater costs" such as further sanctions.
The U.S. State Department said it does not consider the cease-fire "dead," but expressed concern about ongoing violence.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on February 18 urged Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to stop attacks by Russian troops and separatist fighters against Ukrainian government troops.
In Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said Germany 'strongly condemns the military actions of the separatists in Debaltseve,' describing them as a 'major violation' of the latest truce deal reached and a 'heavy strain' on hopes for peace.
French government spokesman Stephane Le Foll said his country would do 'everything to keep the agreement alive.'
The European Union's foreign affairs head, Federica Mogherini, condemned the separatist offensive against the town as a 'clear violation' of the cease-fire.
In London, the British government has released photos of what it describes as Russia's most advanced antiaircraft artillery being operated in eastern Ukraine – the truck-mounted SA-22 surface-to-air missile system.
Britain's Foreign Office said on February 18 that the photographs of the SA-22 -- also known as the Pantsir-S1 -- are further evidence that Russia's military is directly supporting separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine.
The weaponry is not operated by Ukrainian forces and could not have been seized by separatists from Ukraine's military.
A timeline on the photos show the weapons in Shakhtarsk on January 24 and February 5 as well as in Dontesk on February 4.
Based on reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters
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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