DONETSK, Ukraine: Ukraine’s president said he will “talk peace” with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin by demanding the withdrawal of pro-Kremlin militants from the war-torn east when they meet next week for the first time in months.
President Petro Poroshenko said yesterday that “the whole world is tired of war” and that he would “call for militants to be pulled out of Ukraine” when he meets Putin for crunch talks in Minsk alongside top EU officials.
His strident tone reflects the fact that government forces have made significant gains against the pro-Russian rebels in recent days. A fierce offensive continued yesterday, with Kiev hoping for a knock-out blow ahead of the fresh round of diplomacy.
Meanwhile, a controversial Russian aid convoy inched closer to the border with rebel-held areas. Ukraine’s customs officials said they had started processing the first of the lorries after a week of wrangling caused by fears that the convoy could be used to smuggle in military supplies to the rebels. Kiev has accused Moscow of ramping up support to the rebels as their situation grows more desperate, and the West fears the Kremlin could even launch a full-scale invasion as a last roll of the dice.
Russia has persistently denied allegations that it is arming and effectively running the rebellion. It says it wants an end to the Ukrainian offensive and to four months of fighting that has killed over 2,200 people. It ridiculed claims from Kiev that Russian military documents had been found in armoured vehicles captured following a battle near the rebel stronghold of Lugansk.
On the ground, fighting continued in a string of key rebel towns as government forces refocused attempts to cut off alleged supply routes from Russia. Shelling near the main separatist city of Donetsk left two civilians dead yesterday.