Ukraine accuses Russia of 'undisguised aggression' as rebels advance

KIEV/MOSCOW Tue Sep 2, 2014 10:19am EDT

1 of 9. Pro-Russian separatists sit on a tank at a position outside the town of Olenivka near the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, September 2, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

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KIEV/MOSCOW (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko accused Russia on Monday of "direct and undisguised aggression" which he said had radically changed the battlefield balance as Kiev's forces suffered a further reverse in their war with pro-Moscow separatists.

In the latest in a string of setbacks in the past week, Ukraine's military said it had pulled back from defending a vital airport in the east of the country, near the city of Luhansk, where troops had been battling a Russian tank battalion.

Poroshenko said in a speech there would be high-level personnel changes in the Ukrainian armed forces, whose troops fled a new rebel advance in the south which Kiev and its Western allies say has been backed up by Russian armored columns.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who called on Sunday for immediate negotiations on the "statehood" of southern and eastern Ukraine, blamed Kiev's leadership for refusing to enter into direct political talks with the separatists.

European Union leaders decided at a summit on Saturday that the direct engagement of Russian troops in the war - still denied by the Kremlin - called for a stepping up of economic sanctions unless Moscow pulled its soldiers back.

With German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressing that accepting Russia's behavior was not an option, EU ambassadors were to start discussing a new package of measures that could include a ban on Europeans buying Russian government bonds, EU sources said.

Until last week Ukraine had appeared close to crushing the four-month rebellion in the east, which erupted after a pro-Moscow president was forced out of power by popular protests. But then the rebels opened a new front to the south on the coast of the Sea of Azov, pushing towards the city of Mariupol.

AGGRESSION

Poroshenko repeated Kiev's belief that Russian forces are helping the rebels to turn the tide of the war. "Direct and undisguised aggression has been launched against Ukraine from a neighboring state. This has changed the situation in the zone of conflict in a radical way," he said in his speech at a military academy in Kiev.

Defense Minister Valery Heletey added on his Facebook page that Ukraine no longer faced a threat from separatists but outright war with Russian troops. "Unfortunately, in such a war, the losses will be numbered not in their hundreds, but in thousands, even tens of thousands," he said. "We must refrain from panic and show that Ukrainians are not about to surrender."

In the Belarussian capital, Minsk, separatists sat down for preliminary peace talks with Ukraine, saying they would be prepared to stay part of Ukraine if they were granted "special status", according to Russian news agencies.

But they said one of their key conditions would be for Kiev to immediately end its military offensive.

The separatists' demands did not appear, at first sight, to be acceptable to Kiev since they would leave the rebels in control of the territories of Ukraine's industrialized east and exercising a trade policy tilted towards Russia and away from integration with the European Union, which is Kiev's key aim.

Military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said Ukrainian forces had pulled back from the airport near Luhansk. However, they had destroyed seven Russian tanks and identified a major build-up of Russian forces to the north and south of the city.

"According to our operational data, there are no fewer than four (Russian) battalion-tactical groups in Ukraine," he told reporters, adding that each one comprised 400 men.

Speaking during a visit to Siberia, Putin repeated his call for talks. "The current Kiev leadership does not want to carry out a substantive political dialogue with the east of its country," state news agency Itar-Tass cited him as telling journalists.

Putin also said the separatists were trying to force Ukrainian troops from their current positions where they were firing on civilian targets. "The aim of the militia fighters is to push away these armed forces and their artillery to not give them the possibility to shoot on residential areas," he said.

NON-ALIGNED STATUS IN DOUBT

Kiev has clung to a non-aligned status as it tried to steer between two dominant powers - Russia to the east and Europe to the west. However, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Ukraine's political leaders expect a new parliament to abandon this status after an election next month in a possible prelude to an application to join the Western alliance.

Putin made his statehood remarks two days after comparing the Kiev government with Nazis and warning the West not to "mess with us". On Sunday, Putin's spokesman said his call for talks on the statehood of southern and eastern Ukraine did not mean Moscow now endorsed rebel calls for independence for territory they have seized.

However, Merkel took a hard line, although she acknowledged the sanctions have hurt German exporters to the Russian market.

"I have to say there is also an impact when you are allowed to move borders in Europe and attack other countries with your troops," she told a news conference. "Accepting Russia's behavior is not an option. And therefore it was necessary to prepare further sanctions."

EU leaders asked the executive European Commission to prepare further sanctions within a week, building on steps taken at the end of July, which targeted the energy, banking and defense sectors. "I'm hearing that a ban on buying Russian government bonds could be in the next package," an EU official familiar with the preparations said.

The July round forbade Europeans from buying or selling new bonds, shares or other financial instruments with a maturity of more than 90 days issued by major state-owned Russian banks.

COMMON SENSE

Putin called for the EU to think twice about stepping up the sanctions, which were first imposed after Russia's annexation of Ukraine in March. "I hope that common sense will prevail and we will work in a normal modern way," the Interfax news agency reported him as saying.

He won support from China, with which Putin wants to trade more as the West tightens its restrictions.

"A political solution is the only way out. Sanctions do not help to solve the underlying problems in Ukraine," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said.

Several EU countries heavily dependent on Russian gas supplies, including the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria, opposed new measures, which require unanimous agreement.

"I consider sanctions meaningless and counterproductive," Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said on Sunday. "I reserve a right to veto sanctions harming national interests of Slovakia."

The EU could ban gas exports and limit industrial use as part of emergency measures to protect household energy supplies this winter as it prepares for a possible halt in Russian supplies due to the crisis, a source told Reuters.

The United States and EU already extended sanctions after a Malaysian airliner was shot down over rebel territory in July, killing 298 people. Moscow has responded by banning the import of most Western foodstuffs and shutting down McDonald's restaurants but so far energy shipments to the EU have been unaffected.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there would be no military intervention from Russia in Ukraine. Moscow denies the presence of Russian tanks and troops there, despite what NATO and Western governments have said is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

(Additional reporting by Richard Balmforth in Kiev, Mark Trevelyan and Thomas Grove in Moscow, Noah Barkin in Berlin, Jan Strupczewski, Adrian Croft and Martin Santa in Brussels and Sui-Lee Wee in Beijing; Writing by David Stamp; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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Comments (42)
DeweyOxberger wrote:
That Petro is such a cry baby loser. Of course when he was boasting he would destroy and annihilate the rebels if they didn’t unconditionally surrender and lay down their arms that wasn’t aggression. Petro forgot the first rule of warfare, and that’s when the enemy is in range, so are you.

Sep 01, 2014 9:16pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
1964 wrote:
The EU is deluded. There are no Russian tanks in Ukraine other than the tanks that were abandoned by the Ukraine army. What turned the tide was the encirclement of a large number of Ukraine troops who then were given a humanitarian channel to safety in Russia, but without taking their weapons along. That gave the rebels better armaments. The Ukraine army is understandably not very motivated to fight, without sufficient ammunition, food and accommodations. So Poroshenko whines and hypes up false information to hide that he is on his way out. In Kiev people are already demanding his resignation.

Meanwhile the EU was drugged into acting as US poodle to destroy its economy with sanctions on Russia, so the US can push the TAIP down the EU throat without any alterations to protect the EU laws and preferences. Good bye, EU sovereignty.

Underlying the US policies is of course Russia’s and China’s increasing separation from dollar denominated trade, which in time will cause the US to default on its giant, 110% of GDP, debt. Like Hitler, the US wants to solve the problem of impending disaster with WW3. But that may not happen. Instead, NATO and the EU might fall apart. A better way for the US to go about would be the real way: increase trade with Russia and China to pay back some of the debt. That would strengthen both the US industry, economy and the dollar.

Instead, the EU is hyped up to fight America’s war on Russia on the EU’s territory, to spare the US the burden of a destroyed country. Maybe Russia and China will not go along with that and then what? Time to start breeding donkeys in the USA for neocolonial America in ruins.

Sep 01, 2014 9:18pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
MarkRad wrote:
It is obvious to me these people can not”live and let live” without controlling the very life you live…..OFF with there heads!…or at least vote them out….let them live with the peasants, see how that works……

Sep 01, 2014 10:05pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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