Fighting rages in Ukraine town, residents flee

June 05, 2014 - 7:38:28 am
A Federal Border Headquarters building seized by militants in Lugansk, Ukraine, yesterday.

KIEv, Ukraine: Ukrainian government forces battled separatists with artillery and automatic weapons yesterday as fighting raged for a second straight day in and around the eastern town of Slaviansk, forcing many frightened residents to flee.

The Kiev government, trying to break rebellions by pro-Russia militias which it fears could lead to dismemberment of the country, said more than 300 rebels had been killed in the past 24 hours in the “anti-terrorist operation” centred on the town, a strategically located separatist stronghold. Rebels denied this and said losses by the Ukrainian side during a government offensive which began on Tuesday exceeded theirs.

Ukraine said yesterday there is no humanitarian crisis in the country and dismissed a Russian draft resolution to the UN Security Council that seeks to create corridors to allow civilians to escape fighting in the east. Russia circulated a brief draft resolution to the 15-member council on Monday, calling for an end to violence in southeastern Ukraine and and introduction of humanitarian corridors for refugees from Ukraine into Russia. But Western envoys say Ukraine is suffering a political security crisis not a humanitarian crisis.

“We don’t find that this resolution is necessary. Why? Because we don’t have a humanitarian crisis,” Ukraine UN Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev told a news conference at the United Nations. “If there is no humanitarian crisis, no assistance of the kind of provision in the draft resolution is needed.”

Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Moscow of fueling a pro-Russian uprising that threatens to break up the former Soviet republic of 46 million people. Russia denies orchestrating the unrest and says Ukraine’s attempts to end it by military force are making the situation worse.

Heads of the G7 leading industrial nations, chaired by David Cameron,  yesterday called on Vladimir Putin to engage with Ukraine’s incoming President Petro Poroshenko, but stopped short of triggering fresh sanctions against Russia at a curtailed two-day summit in Brussels. The group is keeping its options open, saying it is willing to escalate sanctions if Russia fails to engage in a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

The G7 leaders — many of whom are due to see the Russian president individually later this week about the D-day commemorations in Normandy — are likely to impress on Putin to meet Poroshenko to open a dialogue on the kind of federal structure Ukraine might develop, as well as future trade relations.

Cameron’s spokeswoman said: “The Ukrainian elections last week had given a clear mandate, and we will work with the new president.” She added there was no sign yet that Russia was using its influence to rein in the Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The G7 statement described the Russian annexation of Crimea as illegal, stating: “We are united in condemning the Russian Federation’s continuing violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”. It also condemned “the use of energy supplies as a means of political coercion” and called for energy security and the diversification of supplies to be “at the centre of our collective agenda”.

Putin had been due to chair a full meeting of the G8 in Russia, but the remaining seven nations pulled out in protest at the annexation of Crimea. It is the first time Russia has been excluded from the forum in 17 years.

Putin will meet Cameron on Friday, as well as the German chancellor Angela Merkel, for meetings on the margins of the Normandy D-day commemorations. He will also meet President Francois Hollande in Paris the night before the celebrations, suggesting Putin is hardly being excluded from discussions with western leaders.