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Russia, Separatists Dismiss Ukraine Call For Peacekeepers

February 19, 2015

Russia has dismissed Ukraine's calls for UN-mandated peacekeepers to enforce a shaky cease-fire deal in the country's east.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said on February 19 that the truce agreement signed in Minsk last week should remain the basis for the conflict's resolution.

He also said Kyiv was responsible for making sure the accords were carried out.

Ukraine called for peacekeepers to enforce the cease-fire after government troops withdrew from the strategic town of Debaltseve following intense fighting against Russian-backed separatists.

President Petro Poroshenko's request was approved by Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council at an emergency meeting late on February 18.

Poroshenko told the council that 'the best format would be a police mission from the European Union.'

He said such a force would be 'the most effective and best guarantee for security.'

Russia's RIA Novosti news agency quoted Denis Pushilin, a rebel leader in Donetsk region, as saying the presence of peacekeepers would 'violate' the Minsk agreement.

Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Poroshenko's proposal put into doubt Ukraine's resolve to fulfil the Minsk agreement.

'When someone, instead of doing what he has signed up to, suggests a new scheme and so soon, that raises suspicions that he wants to destroy the Minsk accords,' he was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti.

Maciej Popowski, deputy secretary-general of the EU's External Action Service, said on February 19 that 'there needs to be more clarity' on Poroshenko's proposal before deciding on sending troops to Ukraine.

Under the Minsk deal, meant to quell a conflict that has killed more than 5,600 people since April 2014, both sides were due to lay down their arms on February 15 and begin withdrawing heavy armor from the front lines two days later.

The cease-fire has been broadly observed in eastern Ukraine and some heavy weaponry is said to have been withdrawn by both sides.

But the rebels continued their assault on Debaltseve, a railway hub linking the main separatist-held cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Poroshenko said nearly 2,500 government troops retreated from the town on February 18.

Ukraine's army said 13 soldiers were killed and 157 wounded during what Kyiv described as 'a planned and organized withdrawal.'

It also said more than 90 troops were captured and 82 were still missing after rebels seized Debaltseve.

Basurin said more than 3,000 Ukrainian servicemen were killed during the 'Debaltseve operation' and that more than 300 soldiers were taken prisoner.

On February 19, shelling was reported in the rebel-held city of Donetsk, with artillery fire shaking buildings in the city center.

And Ukrainian military spokesman Anatoliy Stelmakh said rebels heavily shelled government-held positions in Shyrokine, near the coastal town of Mariupol, during the day.

Meanwhile, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France, the four parties to the Minsk accords, held further talks over the phone on February 19.

The French presidency said the leaders denounced the cease-fire breaches and called for 'the implementation of the full package of measures agreed in Minsk' including a full cease-fire, withdrawal of heavy weapons, and the release of prisoners.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had insisted the rebels' actions in Debaltseve had not violated the cease-fire because it was encircled by rebel forces at the time of the agreement, something Kyiv rejects.

The rebel advance, which defied the cease-fire brokered in Minsk by Germany and France, has been widely condemned.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said 'the refusal of the separatists to respect the cease-fire' threatened the peace 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.

Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of sending in troops and weapons to spearhead the assault on Debaltseve, something Moscow denies.

The White House said 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 Moscow to stop attacks by Russian troops and separatist fighters against Ukrainian government troops.

In Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, described the military actions of the separatists in Debaltseve as a 'major violation' of the latest truce deal 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.'

With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and Interfax

Source: ukraine-peacekeepers/26858238.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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