Ukraine Says Fighting Eases, But Cease-Fire Still Not Implemented
February 25, 2015
Ukraine's military says violations by Russian-backed separatists of a newly signed cease-fire deal are continuing, but have been decreasing in recent days.
A Ukrainian military spokesman said on February 25 that separatists shelled the village of Popasna overnight and continued trying to overrun Ukrainian positions at the village of Shyrokyne, near the strategic Azov Sea coastal city of Mariupol.
A February 12 deal brokered by the leaders of France and Germany required both sides to cease fire and subsequently pull heavy weapons back from a separation line, but Ukraine has said it will not begin the pullback until the rebels stop launching attacks.
Military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said: 'For now there is still no order on the withdrawal of weapons, as the fighters have not yet fulfilled the first point of the Minsk agreement: to cease fire.'
Separatists said on February 24 that they were beginning to pull back heavy weapons.
On February 25, the separatists showed journalists that they were pulling back columns of self-propelled howitzer artillery from the front lines in several locations.
But monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said they could not yet verify the withdrawal because the sides have not confirmed how many guns were in place before the cease-fire was meant to take effect on
Kyiv has expressed concerns the separatists, who seized the town of Debaltseve four days after the cease-fire was meant to go in effect on February 15, were merely redeploying their weaponry near Mariupol, the largest government-held city in Donetsk province.
Rebel attacks near Mariupol have raised concerns that the separatists may seek to seize the city and push further westward toward Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in March 2014.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on February 25 that Moscow would face more European Union sanctions if the separatists attack Mariupol.
Like Debaltseve, the city of 500,000 lies beyond the separation line established under an initial cease-fire deal reached in September, meaning any rebel attempt to take it would be a major violation.
'We've told the Russians clearly that if there was an attack by separatists in the direction of Mariupol, things would be drastically altered, including in terms of sanctions,' Fabius said.
Adding to pressure on Russia, British Prime Minister David Cameron on February 24 pledged to send military personnel to Ukraine to train government forces.
But British Defense Minister Michael Fallon said the next day in Parliament that combat troops are not being and 'will not' be sent to Ukraine.
Cameron told lawmakers that over the next month 'we are going to be deploying British service personnel to provide advice and a range of training -- from tactical intelligence, to logistics, to medical care, which is something else that they have asked for.'
Cameron said the assistance would involve nonlethal support, but left open the possibility of providing arms to Ukraine in the future.
He warned that failing to 'stand up to Russia' would result in 'instability' that 'would be deeply damaging to all of us because you'll see further destabilization.'
Polish President Bronislaw Komarowski said on February 25 that Britian's decision was a step in the right direction and that Poland was keeping its own options open on support for Kyiv.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for OSCE monitors to confirm the withdrawal of heavy weapons, and said Kyiv must implement reforms that would give the separatists who control parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces more autonomy.
Lavrov also charged that 'there are many people outside Ukraine and in Kyiv' who want the cease-fire plan to fail.
Moscow denies it has sent troops and weapons to Ukraine despite what Kyiv and NATO say is incontrovertible evidence.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on February 24 said Russian officials have repeatedly lied about the country's involvement in the conflict.
In a sign of the damage the war has inflicted on Ukraine's economy, the central bank has imposed a temporary ban on purchases of foreign currencies by authorized banks on behalf of their customers.
The ban, which is in effect from February 25 to February 27, is the latest move by Ukraine's National Bank aimed at supporting the troubled hryvnya currency, which has lost some 70 percent of kits value in the past year.
The bank said the ban was imposed to 'maintain stable currency and limit unfounded demand for foreign currency from clients.'
The central bank also increased the waiting time from three to four business days for the purchase of foreign currency through deposits in special accounts, or for making advance payments on imports worth more than $50,000.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk criticized the move, saying it was made without consultation with the government and would not stabilize the hryvnya.
Yatsenyuk also called on parliament to convene urgently in order to debate several government proposals aimed at stabilizing Ukraine's financial system.
On February 23, with the hryvnya trading about 9 percent lower that its level the previous week, the central bank capped payments in foreign currencies at $500,000 without letters of credit from foreign banks.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, TASS, Interfax, UNIAN, and zn.ua
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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