Deaths, diplomatic warfare rattle Ukraine truce
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.