Just after taking an oath in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, a pro-Russian fighter holds a flower on Saturday, June 21, 2014.
DONETSK, Ukraine – Kiev on Sunday blamed separatist militias in Ukraine’s east for shattering a unilateral cease-fire announced less than 48 hours ago by President Petro Poroshenko after they instigated fresh clashes with the government’s military forces.
“In response to the peace restoring initiative, the gunmen and terrorists launched continued armed attacks, blatantly violating the truce,” read a joint statement by Ukraine’s defense and foreign ministries released Sunday evening local time.
Fighters from the self-styled Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics launched assaults against Kiev’s “anti-terrorist operation” forces in several cities throughout the eastern regions, firing automatic weapons, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades at Ukrainian positions, including military bases and roadblocks.
In a televised address to the nation on Saturday, Poroshenko issued a warning to separatists that, despite the unilateral cease-fire, they would face fierce resistance should they instigate violence during peacetime.
illegal armed groups have to understand that the cease-fire initiated by us does not mean that Ukrainian soldiers are not allowed to fight backillegal armed groups have to understand that the cease-fire initiated by us does not mean that Ukrainian soldiers are not allowed to fight back. Any attempts by gunmen to attack will receive a strong response,” Poroshenko said.
“We now have enough strength and political will to strike a decisive blow to the illegally armed groups.”
The president’s words came after dozens of newly armed separatist militia recruits openly defied his words and pledged their allegiance to the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic during a ceremony at Donetsk’s Lenin Square, saying that they would defend the republic “to the last drop of blood.”
They tested the president’s resolve overnight.
“Throughout just one night on June 22, the illegal armed groups opened fire eleven times at the positions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine near Kramatorsk, Sloviansk, Artemivsk and other cities," read the Ukrainian ministries’ joint statement. "During the day gunmen undertook consequent armed and mortar attacks on Ukrainian border guards near Chervonopartyzansk, Biriukovo and Nozdrivka in Lugansk region. Provocations continue.”
The ministries also accused the separatists of attempting to escalate the conflict, now in its third month, a move they said requires “strong and immediate international condemnation,” and cautioned Moscow against supporting the separatists’ actions.
“Our principal demand is addressed to Russia,” read the statement. “Our country, along with the international community, urges the Russian Federation to truly and efficiently support the Ukrainian President’s peace plan. Russia is expected to ensure sufficient protection of border from terrorists, as well as unconditionally use its absolute impact on illegal terrorist groups in the east of Ukraine to make them immediately ceasefire and lay down their weapons.
Any further encouragements for terrorists will have critical consequencesAny further encouragements for terrorists will have critical consequences.”
Ukraine and the West have been vocal about their beliefs that Russia is actively supporting the insurgency. In past weeks there have been reports of tanks, military vehicles and heavy weapons crossing from Russia to eastern Ukraine and into the hands of the separatists. Just this week, a leader of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin, took meetings with top Russian officials in Moscow.
Russia, meanwhile, has denied fueling the separatist movement and even snubbed its leaders’ many appeals for assistance in the form of “peacekeepers.” It has called Ukraine’s counterterrorism operation in the east “punitive” and demanded it be halted immediately.
At the same time, Russia has mobilized troops at its southwestern border within mere kilometers of Ukraine, and on Saturday Russian President Vladimir Putin put his military forces in the Urals on “full combat alert.”
After coming out in “cautious” support for Poroshenko’s peace plan and cease-fire on Saturday, Putin on Sunday called on both the Ukrainian military and separatist militias to sit down at the negotiating table.
“That President Poroshenko announced a truce is without a doubt an important part of a final settlement, without which no agreement can be reached, and there is no doubt that Russia will support this intention, but in the end the most important thing is a political process,” Putin said after a ceremony memorializing those who died at the hands of the Nazis in World War II.
At a similar ceremony in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, Poroshenko called for peace and unity to get through the conflict.
“It was so during the violent struggle against the Nazis and it is the same now,” Poroshenko said. “Facing a real threat, we must unite even more and secure our historical choice, defend our right to live freely on our land.”