Sunday, September 21, 2014

Ukraine/Russia/NATO: Update--Cease-Fire Exists in Name Only as Washington Provides No Weapontry

According to AFPheavy gunfire erupted around the eastern Ukrainian rebel stronghold of Donetsk on Sunday (September 21), just hours after NATO's top military commander said there was a ceasefire "in name only" on the ground.

AFP correspondents heard explosions and shelling around Donetsk Airport, a key battleground in the five-month separatist uprising against Kiev's rule.

The violence flared on the day Ukrainian forces and pro-Kremlin insurgents are required to pull back from the frontline and create a buffer zone under a new peace plan hammered out in the capital of Minsk on Saturday (September 20).

It was not known if there had been any movement of fighters away from a proposed 30-kilometer (20-mile) demilitarized zone on the frontline that splits the rebel-controlled east from the rest of the former Soviet state.

The nine-point Minsk plan is meant to reinforce a truce forged on September 5 in a bid to neutralize fighting that has claimed nearly 3,000 lives and threatened Ukraine's very survival.

COMMENT: Washington's continued refusal to provide the Ukraine weapons with which to protect itself is tantamount to providing Moscow with exclusive military advantage.

NATO's top commander General Philip Breedlove said Saturday that continued clashes had shown the two-week-old agreement to be a ceasefire "in name only" and accused Russia of keeping soldiers on Ukrainian soil to bolster the insurgents.

The Minsk memorandum--signed by warring parties and endorsed by both Kiev ambassador and an OSCE envoy--requires the withdrawal of "all foreign armed groups" and mercenaries from the conflict zone.

Russia continues to acknowledge that Moscow has any forces in Ukraine. It says a number of its troops captured by Kiev's forces must have "accidentally strayed across the border." Gen. Breedlove insists that NATO intelligence corroborates that Russian forces are "still inside Ukraine."

In Moscow, thousands of Russians are expected to protest against the Kremlin's involvement in the Ukraine conflict, the first major anti-war rally since fighting flared in the east in April.

Swiss president and OSCE chief Didier Burkhalter hailed the Minsk deal as "a significant step towards making the cease-fire sustainable and an important contribution in the efforts to peacefully settle the crisis."

However, in a major olive branch to the rebels last week, Kiev offered the eastern regions temporary self-rule and adopted legislation granting amnesty to fighters on both sides.

Rebel representatives in the city of nearly one million people also said Saturday they had received a huge Russian humanitarian convoy--a type of shipment Kiev believes Moscow may be using to secretly supply the rebels with weapons and ammunition.

A Ukrainian security spokesman said Moscow had blatantly "violated international law and our sovereignty" because it never gave Ukrainian customs officials a chance to inspect the cargo.

Pro-Russian rebels on Saturday handed over 34 Ukrainian government soldiers in exchange for 38 separatist militants in the latest prisoner swap.

Saturday's Minsk agreement came at the end of an unsettled week for Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko that included Kiev's ratification of a landmark EU association agreement and a visit to Washington for talks with US President Barack Obama.

Yet, the 48-year-old chocolate baron was unsuccessful in persuading President Obama to provide Kiev with offensive weapons in the face of Russian "aggression."

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