Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ukraine/Russia/EU: Update--Death Toll Rises as Vladimir Putin Sees Territorial Expansion

According to Reuters, Ukrainian forces report that Russian tanks had flattened a small border town and pro-Russian rebels had made fresh gains in its east, as EU leaders signaled on Saturday (August 30) that they would threaten more sanctions against Moscow over the crisis.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, attending an EU summit in Brussels, said he was hoping for a political solution, but warned that his country appears to be on the brink of full-scale Russian invasion. 
Russia has repeatedly denied accusations from Kiev and the West that it has dispatched pro-Russian forces into the Ukraine, but it has become clear that Moscow has no capacity for transparency. 
Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists in Kiev that Russian tanks had entered the small Ukrainian town of Novosvitlivka on the border with Russia and destroyed every home.
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Lysenko said the rebels had made new advances east of the border city of Luhansk, one of the rebels' main strongholds, after opening up a new front in another area last week.
Kiev and Western countries say recent rebel gains were the result of the arrival of armored columns of Russian troops, sent by Russian President Vladimir Putin to reinforce a separatist rebellion.
COMMENT: The EU is preparing to implement even tougher economic sanctions on Russia. That being said, formidable sanctions are deemed essential. 
Even French President François Hollande who was seemingly worried about his military contract with Russia appears focused on new, tougher sanctions. 
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said the EU was prepared to enforce much tougher sanctions against Russia, but also seemed inclined to want a political deal to end the confrontation.
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"We are ready to take very strong and clear measures but we are keeping our doors open to a political solution," Barroso said at a news conference with Ukraine's president.
Poroshenko said the crisis was close to a tipping point.
"I think we are very close to the point of no return. The point of no return is full-scale war, which already happened on the territory controlled by separatists," he said.
He added, however, that a trilateral meeting on Monday involving representatives of Kiev, Moscow and the European Union could produce a ceasefire.
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The crisis started when Ukraine's Moscow-backed president was ousted by street protests in February after he ditched a pact with the EU that would have moved the ex-Soviet republic firmly toward Europe and away from Russia.
Russia denounced the pro-Western leadership that took over as "a fascist junta" and went on to annex Ukraine's Crimea peninsula. Pro-Russian separatists then rebelled in Ukraine's mainly Russian-speaking east in April, setting up 'people's republics' and declaring they wanted to join Russia.
A senior UN human rights official said on Friday nearly 2,600 civilians, Ukrainian government forces and rebels had been killed in a conflict which has led to the biggest Russia-West crisis since the Cold War.
In Kiev, Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said a group of pro-Ukrainian fighters had broken out of encirclement by pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk early on Saturday, though other reports suggested many remained trapped.
Defense Minister Valery Heletey also ordered a clamp-down on information coming out of Ilovaysk, a town to the east of Donetsk.
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Indicating government forces were being pulled back from the area, Heletey said on his Facebook page: "As soon as the danger for Ukrainian units has passed, all open information for the current period relating to the withdrawal of forces from Ilovaysk will be published."
Last week pro-Russian rebels opened a new front in a separate, coastal territory along the Sea of Azov and pushed Ukrainian troops out of the town of Novoazovsk. They are now threatening the strategic port city of Mariupol.
Several shots were fired on Saturday at a car carrying Alexander Zakharchenko, leader of the breakaway Donetsk People's Republic, but he escaped unscathed, another separatist leader, Sergei Kavtaradze, told REUTERS. 
"Zakharchenko wasn't hurt. His driver was wounded and is being operated on," Kavtaradze said, adding that an operation was under way to catch whomever had fired the shots.View gallery
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"We are ready to take very strong and clear measures but we are keeping our doors open to a political solution," Barroso said at a news conference with Ukraine's president.
"I think we are very close to the point of no return. The point of no return is full-scale war, which already happened on the territory controlled by separatists," he said.
He added, however, that a trilateral meeting on Monday (September 1) involving representatives of Kiev, Moscow and the EU could produce a ceasefire.
View  allery
The crisis started when Ukraine's Moscow-backed president was ousted by street protests in February after he ditched a pact with the EU that would have moved the ex-Soviet republic firmly toward Europe and away from Russia.
Russia denounced the pro-Western leadership that took over as "a fascist junta" and went on to annex Ukraine's Crimea peninsula. Pro-Russian separatists then rebelled in Ukraine's mainly Russian-speaking east in April 2014, setting up a "peoples' republic," and declaring they wanted to join Russia.
A senior UN human rights official said on Friday nearly 2,600 civilians, Ukrainian government forces and rebels had been killed in a conflict which has led to the biggest Russia-West crisis since the Cold War.
In Kiev, Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said a group of pro-Ukrainian fighters had broken out of encirclement by pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk early on Saturday, though other reports suggested many remained trapped.
Defense Minister Valery Heletey also ordered a clamp-down on information coming out of Ilovaysk, a town to the east of Donetsk.
View gallery
Indicating government forces were being pulled back from the area, Heletey said on his Facebook page: "As soon as the danger for Ukrainian units has passed, all open information for the current period relating to the withdrawal of forces from Ilovaysk will be published."
Last week pro-Russian rebels opened a new front in a separate, coastal territory along the Sea of Azov and pushed Ukrainian troops out of the town of Novoazovsk. They are now threatening the strategic port city of Mariupol.
Several shots were fired on Saturday at a car carrying Alexander Zakharchenko, leader of the breakaway Donetsk People's Republic, but he escaped unscathed, another separatist leader, Sergei Kavtaradze, told REUTERS.