KIEV: Ukraine is rearming and deploying newly-formed units to protect cities in the east of the country from threatened attempts by pro-Russian rebels to seize more territory, President Petro Poroshenko said on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila).
At a crisis meeting of security chiefs in the capital Kiev, Poroshenko said he had not given up on a deal brokered in September to end the seven-month conflict, in which the United Nations says more than 4,000 people have died.
“Ukraine remains a firm supporter of the peace plan,” Poroshenko said.
However, Poroshenko said Ukraine’s military is ready to repel any separatist attempt to mount a new offensive, as they have repeatedly threatened to do.
Troops were in place to defend government-held cities from Mariupol on the Black Sea to Kharkiv in the northeast, near Russia, he said.
“We are obliged as the Ukrainian state not to allow the spread of this cancerous tumor, to ensure the blockade of this territory,” he told his National Security and Defense Council.
Ukraine’s small army has been badly mauled during the more than half-year of battles with rebels who Western governments say are supplied and supported by regular Russian troops.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday in Brussels that Russia continues to arm, train and support the rebels, with special forces inside Ukraine and more troops detected moving troops along the border.
But Ukraine will be “prepared for decisive measures in the case of a negative scenario,” Poroshenko said.
“Today, several new units and groupings have been formed, which will already allow us to stop any possible attack,” he said. “The supplying of our armed forces with the very latest technology – offensive, reconnaissance, guided systems – is continuing quite effectively,” he added.
Autonomy offer scrapped
The meeting with security chiefs in Kiev was called after separatists staged leadership elections that were endorsed by Russia, but condemned by Ukraine, the United States, European Union powers, and the head of the United Nations.
In the two rebel enclaves in the east, centered on the cities of Donetsk and Lugansk, the Kremlin-backed leaders added to the trappings of statehood with post-election inauguration ceremonies on Tuesday.
Poroshenko said the “pseudo” elections on Sunday had “torpedoed” a key provision of the September peace deal in which rebels would be given wide autonomy, while preserving Ukraine’s integrity.
The September accord – signed by Ukraine, the rebels, Russia and the European security body Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Minsk—was meant to pave the way for a ceasefire and ultimately a political settlement.
Poroshenko said he had now decided to ask parliament to “cancel” the law offering autonomy for the rebel regions, a measure at the heart of the whole peace plan.
Constant ceasefire violations have already undermined the truce, with fighting breaking out again across the conflict zone on Tuesday. Ukraine’s military announced the death of one soldier and five wounded.
Artillery bombardments started up outside Donetsk, Agence France-Prsse correspondents said. Observers from the OSCE said there had also been artillery fire in several other areas of southeastern Ukraine.