KIEV: Ukraine faced the threat on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) of a resumption of all-out warfare as 12 more people, mostly civilians, died in increasingly bloody clashes with pro-Russian rebels despite a truce deal.
The toll was one of the highest reported since the two rivals signed the Moscow-backed peace pact in the Belarussian capital Minsk on September 5.
Mortar and shelling attacks have killed 14 civilians since the weekend—one of the deadliest spells in six months of fighting that has killed more than 3,300 people across the Russian-speaking east.
“We know that [the ceasefire]is not being implemented today. The shooting has not stopped,” visiting US State Department official Victoria Nuland told a group of Kiev students after talks with Ukraine’s new pro-Western team.
Insurgency leaders signed up to the deal but soon accused Kiev of breaking the ceasefire. Some have since vowed to keep fighting until all Ukrainian forces pull out of their self-proclaimed states.
The heaviest daily clashes are being waged around the northern outskirts of the main rebel-held city of Donetsk. Outnumbered government forces have been holding on to a besieged airport there since the end of May.
Kiev’s military said on Tuesday that the gunmen killed five soldiers at the shelled out transport hub—once the busiest and most modern in east Ukraine—since Monday afternoon.
The other seven people killed were civilians who died in various incidents in the separatist Lubansk-Donetsk region.
Nuland has been a hate figure in Moscow for openly backing weeks of pro-Western protests that claimed the lives of more than 100 people but succeeded in ousting a Russian-backed president in February.
The State Department’s top official for European affairs risked further inflaming Moscow by blaming the spike in violence on Russian efforts to break up Ukraine in retaliation for its decision to leave its historic sphere of influence.
“If the Minsk agreement is fully implemented, we will begin to remove some sanctions on Russia. If it is not honored, there will be further costs,” Nuland said.
The punitive steps taken by Western allies prompted the International Monetary Fund to downgrade Russia’s growth forecast to 0.2 percent for this year and 0.5 percent for 2015.
Russia has struck back by banning most European Union (EU) and US food items and keeping Western companies from bidding for lucrative state procurement contracts.
The restrictions have been particularly painful for some European farmers and close Russian trading partners such as the Netherlands.
They have also deepened divisions between new EU members from ex-Soviet satellites and older European powers that rely heavily on Russian gas imports and take a more patient approach with the Kremlin.