Deaths, diplo­matic war­fare rat­tle Ukraine truce

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY DMITRY ZAKS

Ukraine’s fal­ter­ing peace deal suf­fered fresh set­backs on Satur­day when Kiev re­ported the deaths of six sol­diers and ac­cused Moscow of abetting an attack on one of its Rus­sian con­sulates.

The lat­est fa­tal­i­ties in the twist­ing and hotly dis­puted zone sep­a­rat­ing Ukrainian forces from their proRus­sian foes in the sep­a­ratist east add to the strains of a Fe­bru­ary truce de­signed to end one of Europe’s dead­li­est con­flicts in decades.

The 14-month war has claimed nearly 6,500 lives and turned Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin into an in­creas­ingly iso­lated fig­ure blamed for pulling a Cold War-era pall over Moscow’s re­la­tions with the West.

Satur­day’s ca­su­al­ties bring to about 50 the num­ber of peo­ple re­ported killed this month — a fig­ure that fails to in­clude all the deaths suf­fered by the se­cre­tive and par­tially splin­tered rebel com­mand.

Ukrainian mil­i­tary spokesman An­driy Ly­senko said overnight clashes had been es­pe­cially heavy around the frag­mented re­mains of the once-gleam­ing air­port on the out­skirts of the sep­a­ratists’ de facto cap­i­tal Donetsk.

Eastern Ukraine’s busiest air hub turned into a sym­bolic war prize that Kiev lost hun­dreds of sol­diers de­fend­ing un­til Jan­uary. Neigh­bor­hoods around the air­port suf­fer con­tin­ual shelling to this day.

“The sit­u­a­tion near the air­port is par­tic­u­larly restive,” Ly­senko told re­porters.

“Our enemies have thrown tanks, in­fantry com­bat ve­hi­cles and ar­tillery into battle.”

A sep­a­rate Kiev state­ment said “the past few days have seen the high­est rate of ac­tiv­ity from proRus­sian (rebels) in a month.”

Donetsk in­sur­gents blamed Kiev for shelling the very re­gions men­tioned by Ly­senko. They also ac­cused Poroshenko’s forces of com­mit­ting “99 cease-fire vi­o­la­tions” since Fri­day.

The U.S. De­fense Depart­ment, mean­while, is “poised” to sta­tion heavy weapons for up to 5,000 Amer­i­can troops in sev­eral Eastern Euro­pean and Baltic coun­tries to de­ter Rus­sian ag­gres­sion, the New York Times re­ported Satur­day.

The pro­posal, if ap­proved, would be the first time since the end of the Cold War that the U.S. .has had heavy mil­i­tary equip­ment — in­clud­ing battle tanks — in newer NATO mem­bers that were once un­der Moscow’s in­flu­ence as part of the Soviet Union.

The bat­tle­field blood­shed has been com­pounded by ten­sions sur­round­ing the oc­ca­sion of Fri­day’s Rus­sia Day hol­i­day.

Footage filmed by Life News — a Rus­sian TV sta­tion with close links to the pow­er­ful state se­cu­rity ser­vice — showed the Ukrainian build­ing cov­ered in green paint and one of its win­dows bro­ken.

Ukrainian For­eign Min­is­ter Pavlo Klimkin con­demned the in­ci­dent, which he called an­other ex­am­ple of Rus­sian “ag­gres­sion.”

“The Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda (chan­nel) taped ev­ery­thing. The po­lice gave the bar­bar­ians the time to do their deed,” Klimkin tweeted. “Does Rus­sia’s ag­gres­sion have no end?”

But lo­cal mem­ber of par­lia­ment Yeka­te­rina Stenyak­ina said the in­ci­dent was staged by lo­cal Ukraini­ans in an at­tempt to fur­ther dis­credit Rus­sia’s im­age on the global stage.

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