Rebel moves in eastern Ukraine undermine hopes for peace
Separatist forces deployed more arms and manpower yesterday to an emerging flashpoint in eastern Ukraine, undermining hopes for a new peace initiative taking shape.
Responding to the developments, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko cut short a visit to the economic summit in Davos, Switzerland, where he courted European support in the worsening crisis.
The events unfolded ahead of a meeting of the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany that began in Berlin and was aimed at laying the groundwork for a long-lasting settlement.
In advance of the talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov proposed both sides in the conflict pull their heavy weapons back from a previously agreed-upon dividing line to help defuse hostilities. Lavrov's remarks were greeted with cautious approval by his Ukrainian counterpart, Pavlo Klimkin.
"Russia needs to confirm (peace deals) through deed not word," Klimkin said on his Twitter account.
While Lavrov urged measures to contain the unfolding unrest, he said nothing about the rebels surrendering territory they acquired in violation of a peace deal concluded in September in Minsk, Belarus. Ukraine says separatist forces that are backed by Russia have overstepped agreed-upon front-line boundaries between the warring sides by 500 square kilometres (190 square miles).
A fresh separatist advance is under way in an area northwest of Luhansk, the second-largest rebel-held city. The fighting is centred on two checkpoints along a strategic highway.
Ukraine's Defense Ministry said one of those positions, Checkpoint 31, had been abandoned but that operations were under way to retake it.
The separatist forces appear well poised to take the upper hand, however.