26 Aug 2014

Ukraine: Poroshenko meets Putin as tensions rise

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko holds talks with his Russia counterpart, Vladimir Putin, at a summit in Minsk, capital of Belarus, as tensions continue to mount in eastern Ukraine.

Warning: the video above contains flash photography

Speaking at the high-level meeting on Tuesday, Mr Poroshenko said that the only effective instrument for ending bloodshed in eastern Ukraine was effective border controls with Russia, and halting arms supplies to the rebels and releasing prisoners of war.

Mr Poroshenko said all the actors wanted to emerge with dignity from the Ukrainian crisis and that he would listen to all options in a bid to bring peace.

His Russian counterpart, Mr Putin added: “We are convinced that today, (the Ukraine crisis) cannot be solved by further escalation of the military scenario, without taking into account vital interests of the south-eastern regions of the country and without a peaceful dialogue with its representatives.”

Mr Putin also said the Russian economy could suffer a loss of some $2.77bn if European Union goods reach Russia via Ukraine, bypassing the tariffs Russia levies on EU goods.

Russian troops

The meeting took place as Ukraine released a video of captured Russian soldiers, escalating a dispute over Moscow’s alleged backing for separatist rebels in the east of the former Soviet republic.

The footage – which appears to show Russian servicemen captured by Ukrainian government forces while fighting alongside pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine – was released only hours before the two countries’ presidents were due to meet for the first time since June to discuss the conflict.

In Moscow, a military source told Russian news agencies that a group of soldiers had surrendered to Ukrainian forces after crossing the border by accident. Ukraine rejected that explanation.

“This wasn’t a mistake, but a special mission they were carrying out,” military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said in a televised briefing.

Mr Lysenko also said separatists were attacking the south eastern border town of Novoazovsk “at this very minute” and Ukrainian forces had destroyed 12 armoured infantry vehicles in the area.

Twelve Ukrainian service personnel had been killed in fighting in the past 24 hours, he said, including four border guards who died when Russian Mi-24 helicopters attacked a frontier post in Luhansk region on Monday.

Russia has always denied assertions by Ukraine, backed by the United States and the European Union, that it has been sending arms and troops across the border to support the pro-Moscow separatists.

‘Cleansing parliament’

On Monday Mr Poroshenko announced that he would be dissolving Ukraine’s parliament ahead of an election on 26 October.

In a statement, Mr Poroshenko said the dissolution, signalled by the break-up of the majority coalition last month, was in line with “the expectations of the vast majority of the citizens of Ukraine”, and called it a move toward “cleansing” the parliament.

The decision had been expected after the governing coalition in Ukraine – which ousted its Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovych in street protests in February, precipitating the separatist rebellions in its eastern regions – collapsed on 24 July.

Mr Poroshenko and his government, whose pro-Europe policies have angered the Kremlin, hope to stabilise the situation in the east by October sufficiently to hold a relatively normal election that will earn them greater legitimacy and strengthen their hand in dealing with Russia.

The crisis in Ukraine, in which the United Nations says more than 2,000 people have been killed, has resulted in the worst crisis between Russia and the west since the end of the cold war.