Putin, Ukraine leader push ceasefire

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SIVERSK, Ukraine: Ukraine’s new Western-backed leader and Russian President Vladimir Putin have both called for dialogue to end a pro-Moscow uprising that has threatened the ex-Soviet state’s survival and brought Europe to the edge of war.

The twin calls on Sunday (Monday in Manila) from the central figures of the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War era came with the ragtag militias in Ukraine’s eastern rustbelt showing no desire to end their independence drive.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko—who will crown his May 25 election promise by signing a historic European Union trade pact in Brussels on Friday that pulls Kiev further out of the Kremlin’s reach—called a peaceful settlement “our plan A.”

“But those who are planning to use peaceful negotiations only to buy time and regroup their forces must know that we have a detailed plan B. I am not going to speak of it now because I believe that our peaceful plan will work out,” he said in a 12-minute television address.


The 48-year-old confectionery tycoon added that he had no intention of negotiating with those implicated in “murder and torture.”

Putin promised to stand behind Poroshenko’s peace efforts as long as they led to “substantial dialogue,” and resulted in ethnic Russians winning broader language and other civil rights.

The Ukraine crisis will domi–nate an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg on Monday, amid uncertainty about Russia’s real intentions just days before Brussels signs the historic association accord with Kiev.

Ukraine Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin will attend the Luxem–bourg meeting, chaired by EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton, and will be closely listened to, EU officials said.

Fights to continue
However, the separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine were showing little interest in the diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis.

“Both of my grandfathers were killed in World War II fighting the Nazis,” said a rebel named Andriy as he prepared ammunition for a heavy machine gun in his battle against what many separatists refer to as the “fascist” in power in Kiev today.

“I will continue their fight,” the 31-year-old said.

Ukraine’s border guards re–ported three raids by the rebels in the eastern Lugansk region Sunday that followed similar attacks the day before.

Leaders in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic reaffirmed that the “ceasefire unilaterally declared by the Ukrainian military without any coordination with us is not recognized by [our]militia.”

But Putin took the extra step on Saturday to call on “the conflicting parties to halt all military activities and sit down at the negotiating table”—a comment that implied a degree of criticism for the rebels’ continued attacks.

The Kremlin chief has been sending mixed signals to Kiev that included a surprise order Saturday for Russian forces stretching from the Volga to western Siberia to go on “full combat alert.”

Some analysts see this as a bid by Putin—still stunned at seeing months of deadly pro-EU protests lead to the February ouster of a Kremlin-backed president—to unsettle the new pro-Western team and keep reins on the Russified southeast while avoid–ing new Western sanctions.

French President Francois Hollande’s office said he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Putin in a three-way call Sunday “to promote the resumption of negotiations.”

Poroshenko told US Vice President Joe Biden Sunday that the Russian-backed separatists continue to attack Ukrainian forces despite Kiev’s unilateral ceasefire declaration, the White House said.

In a phone call, Biden, wel–coming the declaration, “ex–pressed concern that separatist leaders have refused to recip–rocate,” the statement added.

And, in a warning to the Kremlin, Biden said Washington was “working closely with its G7 [Group of Seven] partners to prepare further economic sanctions against Russia if Moscow did not take actions as described in the G7 leaders declaration to stop the flow of arms and militants across the border and use its influence to publicly call on the separatists to lay down their arms.”

AFP

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