Pro-Rus­sian rebels slay five soldiers

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - NEWS WORLD - By Volodymyr Verbyany and James G. Neuger

KYIV, Ukraine — Rebels killed five Ukrainian soldiers in vi­o­la­tion of a truce ex­tended by the coun­try’s govern­ment af­ter the Euro­pean Union gave Rus­sia three days to quell the in­sur­gency or face deeper sanc­tions.

Twelve soldiers also were wounded in the at­tacks by pro-Rus­sian sep­a­ratists in Ukraine’s east­ern re­gion, govern­ment of­fi­cials said.

The vi­o­lence oc­curred as EU lead­ers in Brussels de­manded on Fri­day the sep­a­ratists, whom Ukraine and its al­lies say are backed by Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, abide by a cease­fire Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko had ex­tended through Mon­day, re­lease hostages and start talks to im­ple­ment a peace plan.

Rebel lead­ers agreed to the ex­ten­sion, re­ported news ser­vice In­ter­fax. Still, the de­fence min­istry in Kyiv said Satur­day’s ca­su­al­ties oc­curred in two sep­a­rate in­ci­dents.

“De­spite peace ini­tia­tives by Ukraine’s lead­er­ship and a uni­lat­eral cease­fire, the sit­u­a­tion in the east­ern re­gions continues to es­ca­late,” the min­istry said in a state­ment.

“In­sur­gents are ig­nor­ing the peace plan to ease the sit­u­a­tion in Ukraine’s east and keep at­tack­ing troops.”

Rebels in east­ern Ukraine did re­lease a to­tal of eight mon­i­tors from the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Se­cu­rity and Co- oper­a­tion in Europe who had been held hostage since late May, ac­cord­ing to ac­counts from the OSCE and Alexan­der Malt­sev, a sep­a­ratist spokesman for the self-pro­claimed Donetsk People’s Repub­lic.

Other people not as­so­ci­ated with the OSCE are still be­ing held in the re­gion.

The EU lead­ers said fail­ure to meet their de­mands will re­sult in “fur­ther sig­nif­i­cant re­stric­tive mea­sures” against Rus­sia, said a state­ment is­sued on Fri­day.

“If no vis­i­ble progress is made on these points, then we are pre­pared to take fur­ther de­ci­sions, in­clud­ing dras­tic mea­sures,” Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel said af­ter the meet­ing. “We ex­pect progress to come re­ally in the hours ahead.”

The U.S. blames Putin for sup­port­ing rebels and stok­ing vi­o­lence the United Na­tions says has killed more than 400 people in the coun­try of more than 40 mil­lion.

The U.S. is pre­par­ing sanc­tions against Rus­sia on tech­nol­ogy aimed at ex­ploit­ing and pro­duc­ing oil and gas prod­ucts, a ma­jor part of that coun­try’s econ­omy, ac­cord­ing to three people briefed on the plans.

The U.S. and Euro­pean al­lies im­posed sanc­tions about two months ago on a small num­ber of people and com­pa­nies close to Putin.

‘If no vis­i­ble progress is made on these points, then we are pre­pared to take fur­ther de­ci­sions, in­clud­ing dras­tic mea­sures’

— An­gela Merkel

The U.S. is push­ing Ukraine into con­flict with Rus­sia, Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov said on Satur­day, adding the govern­ment in Kyiv must con­sult with those in the coun­try who are seek­ing more au­ton­omy.

“There are our part­ners from over­seas, our Amer­i­can col­leagues who, based on plen­ti­ful ev­i­dence, still pre­fer to push the Ukrainian au­thor­i­ties along the con­fronta­tional road,” Lavrov said on state-run tele­vi­sion.

He also said while sep­a­ratists in east­ern Ukraine’s self-pro­claimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk lis­ten to Moscow, they don’t re­spond to all re­quests from the Krem­lin.

Poroshenko signed a free-trade pact on Fri­day with the 28-mem­ber EU to bol­ster sol­i­dar­ity with the richer na­tions to Ukraine’s west. He said the agree­ment showed Ukraine’s “sov­er­eign choice in favour of fu­ture mem­ber­ship of the EU.”

“We’re just look­ing to mod­ern­ize our coun­try,” Poroshenko said in an in­ter­view in the French daily Le Fi­garo pub­lished Satur­day. “We in­tro­duce free­dom, democ­racy and rule of law, Euro­pean val­ues, and we’re be­ing at­tacked be­cause of it.”

A pre­vi­ous re­jec­tion of the trade ac­cord by the man Poroshenko re­placed, Vik­tor Yanukovych, trig­gered deadly protests in Kyiv last Novem­ber that this year ousted the proRus­sian ad­min­is­tra­tion. Rus­sia re­sponded by an­nex­ing Crimea from Ukraine and has voiced sup­port for Rus­sian speak­ers in Ukraine’s south­east, who it says are un­der at­tack by their own govern­ment.

About 67 per cent of Ukraini­ans would vote to join the EU in a ref­er­en­dum, a June 6-11 Razumkov Cen­ter poll of 2,012 vot­ers found, com­pared with 20 per cent who wouldn’t.

While the deal doesn’t of­fer EU mem­ber­ship, it gives Ukrainian com­pa­nies bet­ter ac­cess to the world’s big­gest trad­ing bloc and will boost ex­ports by one bil­lion eu­ros (US$1.4 bil­lion) a year, the EU es­ti­mates. In ex­change, Ukraine pledged to use EU funds to meet prod­uct, safety and con­sumer stan­dards, bol­ster hu­man rights and fight graft.

Putin, who is try­ing to es­tab­lish a Eurasian trad­ing bloc made up of for­mer Soviet states to ri­val the EU, has said the agree­ment will dam­age Rus­sia’s econ­omy. His govern­ment has said those who sign agree­ments with the EU may face reper­cus­sions.

In Satur­day’s vi­o­lence, in­sur­gents killed three soldiers and wounded four at a check­point in the Donetsk rebel strong­hold of Slovyansk, mil­i­tary spokesman Olek­siy Dmy­trashkovskyi said.

Two other soldiers were killed and eight wounded in an at­tack by in­sur­gents in the Luhansk re­gion, he said. There were no de­tails on rebel ca­su­al­ties. More than 20 Ukrainian soldiers have died in rebel at­tacks since the cease­fire be­gan, In­te­rior Min­is­ter Arsen Avakov said Fri­day.

The EU has im­posed as­set freezes and travel bans on 61 people con­nected with un­rest in Ukraine and Rus­sia’s seizure of Crimea in March. It has stopped short of broader curbs on in­vest­ment and trade that might dam­age the Euro­pean econ­omy as it shakes off the ef­fects of the debt cri­sis.

Rus­sia’s econ­omy can with­stand sec­toral sanc­tions, though a worst-case sce­nario would re­sult in an eco­nomic con­trac­tion, higher in­fla­tion and de­clin­ing in­comes and govern­ment re­serves, Rus­sian Econ­omy Min­is­ter Alexei Ulyukayev said on state-run TV Satur­day.

The UN es­ti­mates about 54,000 people have fled to other places in­side Ukraine, while 110,000 dis­placed Ukraini­ans have ar­rived in Rus­sia this year.

Rus­sia’s fail­ure to com­ply with the EU dead­line could lead to additional as­set freezes and travel bans af­ter Mon­day. A move to­ward more sanc­tions could come as early as midJuly, when the lead­ers are sched­uled to meet again.

EU sanc­tions re­quire a con­sen­sus of the bloc’s 28 gov­ern­ments, mak­ing it pos­si­ble for coun­tries such as Aus­tria, Slo­vakia or Italy to stand in the way. Aus­tria deep­ened its eco­nomic ties with Rus­sia last week by sign­ing an ac­cord with OAO Gazprom for di­rect pipe­line ac­cess to Rus­sian gas.

“The im­por­tant thing is that for the very first time in his­tory we — the EU and Ukraine — agreed on a com­mon stance vis-à-vis Rus­sia,” Pol­ish Prime Min­is­ter Don­ald Tusk told re­porters in Brussels Fri­day.

— Bloomberg News

ALEXAN­DER ZEM­LIANICHENKO / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov blames the U.S. for in­creas­ing con­flict be­tween his na­tion and Ukraine.

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